The scene is the House of Commons; the date May 7, 1940. A simple motion to adjourn for the ten-day Whitsun recess is of little concern to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who has a comfortable 213 seat majority. Then things take a turn. A plan approved by the first Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill to land troops in Norway and engage the Germans directly has been a disaster with huge losses, and the eventual naval evacuation of the expeditionary force — an Arctic Dardanelles planned by the same man.
Chamberlain rises to defend Churchill and the conduct of the war in what has now come to be known as the “Norway Debate”. In the most unlikely of scenarios and with no evidence of Winston trying to put his name forward — in fact the opposite — when the tide turns against Chamberlain, within three days as more favored candidates are shed, he has become prime minister. Such is the parliamentary system. Margaret Thatcher is another example, toppled shortly after success at the polls.
The American system, however, puts the president beyond such reach other than through a laborious impeachment. Analogous to the third Roman Emperor Caligula, Donald Trump, too, has no military or political experience. Caligula made his horse a senator or some say consul; Trump has the equivalent running government departments and agencies. Caligula declared himself a god; Trump tweeted he is a ‘stable genius.’ If Caligula’s reign ended with assassination, Trump’s will be more prosaic — just disaffected voters.
Another mass shooting this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen are dead and many more injured. The gunman, identified as Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 assault type rifle, a weapon far deadlier than a pistol — perhaps he watched the coverage of the Las Vegas shooting. He was a former pupil who had been suspended from the school, and who students recalled as disturbed and scary.
President Trump in his remarks following the incident did not bring up the obvious question of why an AR-15 was so easily available for purchase. Gun owners and the gun lobby are part of his constituency.
Following a mass shooting in April 1996 when a man armed with two semi-automatic rifles killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania, the Australian government put together strict gun laws. They were supplemented with a mandatory gun-buyback program through which 650,000 firearms were destroyed. Did the program work? The data tells the story more vividly: From 1979 to 1996, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings; since 1997 it has had none.
Under his usual theme of ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, President Trump continues to talk about finding ways to deal better with disturbed people. The sure Australian way is to stop them acquiring guns.
Lost in the Florida school story was another shooting the same day when trigger-happy guards let loose at a National Security Agency entrance. The forested area is a confused mass of entries and exits. It has happened before that somebody inadvertently makes a wrong turn and panics when faced with shouting armed guards. In this incident, bullet holes can be seen in the windshield and the three men in the car were injured.
Introducing the Gates Foundation’s annual philanthropic letter a few days ago, Bill and Melinda Gates appealed to Donald Trump to not cut foreign aid — “even a 10 percent cut could lead to 5 million deaths in the next decade”, Bill Gates warned. Will President Trump listen?
Despite the many wonderful aspects the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, when it comes to jettisoning incompetent leaders, it is difficult to best the parliamentary system for immediacy.