The Founding Fathers v. Self Interest

December 17, 2019

As this nation nears its third impeachment of a sitting president it is clear that the American people are clearly divided. This division has been analyzed over and over again as Republicans v. Democrats, conservatives v. liberals,  coastal elites v. the heartland forgotten, Trumpists v. Constitutionalists and the President v. Congress. What we are experiencing as the House of Representatives nears its vote is a mix of all of the above reasons for our political polarization. There is, however, one more source of the division that needs to be analyzed further,  a source which may provide an insight into why we as a nation do not see eye to eye on the two impeachment articles presented by the Democrats in the House.

The supporters of impeaching President Trump continually stress that abuse of power was the primary concern of the Founding Fathers when they included  the language on the removal of a sitting chief executive from office. Historians, constitutionals scholars and media pundits looked back to the Constitutional Convention and found that the Framers were fearful of excessive power in the hands of a president, and more importantly excessive power that would be used to weaken opposition forces and maintain control of government.

The Founding Fathers feared a return to monarchy with limitless, unchecked power. Just today over 750 historians and other academics voiced support for impeachment citing constitutional principles, the intent of the Framers and the threat to democracy posed by the Trump presidency. As for those everyday Americans who support impeachment, they often stress the importance of the rule of law, separation of powers and the absolute necessity of protecting the constitution as the guiding document that is the foundation of our government and indeed our way of life. They also detest President Trump with a passion and base their passion on constitutional grounds rather than simple hatred.

But those who are fighting the impeachment of President Trump are less enamored with all this talk of abuse of power, constitutionalism and threat to democracy. They often point out that impeachment is a political act and the Democrats are merely seeking to weaken President Trump as the country moves toward the 2020 election. Republicans in the House and Senate do not see President Trump as engaging in abuse of power during the Ukraine foreign aid process and instead support his actions, while vilifying his detractors. While some will say the Republicans have little if any appreciation of what the  Founding Fathers were concerned about in terms of abuse of power, to the anti-impeachment side this constitutional exercise is all about weakening President Trump and has little to do with “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But then there are those Americans in opposition to impeachment. The nearly 50% of the those opposed to removing President Trump are likely fearful of the political and economic chaos that removal of a president will create. These are prosperous times, with little unemployment, a hot stock market, rising wages and solid consumer confidence. Most Americans, including those in favor of impeachment, don’t know a great deal about the constitution or the thinking of the Framers of the constitution. But Americans do know economic prosperity and the benefits of sustained growth. Constitutional principles are fine in theory, but economic self -interest overshadows this governing document. Americans by their capitalist nature are “pocketbook patriots” and when faced with a challenge to their economic self-interest by a constitutional argument will likely follow their pocketbook.

No one can predict how the impeachment will play out; who knows there might be a new revelation that helps solidify either side. But the American people, if there is any certainty at this point, is that they are tired of impeachment, enjoying a financial mini-boom, and do not want to see this country and this economy fall into instability and unpredictability. The Founding Fathers may be turning over in their graves at how little appreciation there is today with their concerns over abuse of power but they shouldn’t be surprised since self-interest is also a fundamental principle of our country, our government and our way of life.

Is Donald Trump Sent From God?

December 3, 2019

A recurring theme brought forth by the evangelical right is that Donald Trump is sent by God, which in many respects accounts for the unwavering support for the President from this segment of the voting population. How can members of the Christian right leave their president when he stands up for all the policy issues that have been ignored or ridiculed by liberals – anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti- gay marriage, pro- religious liberty, pro-conservative Supreme Court and pro-ending separation of church and state. To this staunchly religious group of Americans God has ordained Trump to end the reign of the secular left and its hedonistic, self-centered, and anything goes value system.

Now as someone who believes in God, tries to follow the model of Jesus Christ and is a regular churchgoer, it is not my right to judge the beliefs of others, after all the First Amendment gives all of us freedom of religion. Yet I do have to ask the evangelicals a simple question – how do they know that God sent Donald Trump to save America from the progressive left? Isn’t it enough just to thank him for embracing their policy agenda and their personal values? Why make him a deity?

The answer comes from my instincts as a political scientist. With the impeachment hearings moving forward and a vote to pin a huge I on Donald Trump’s red tie, there apparently is a political need to further solidify his base and ensure that no one on the religious right leaves the fold or worse yet decides not to vote for the President next November. As a political scientist I don’t think it necessary to raise the President to the level of a deity, but there may be a concern in the White House and among his political allies like the newly departed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry that further revelations during the impeachment process could soften the evangelical base.  There is nothing better to strengthen political allegiance then to tag the head guy as God directing the nation from heaven.

Not surprisingly, those on the left snicker at the claim that Donald Trump was sent by God, but those snide smiles do little to change the mindset of the evangelicals. Such condescending attitudes only verify what the right has been saying all along – the godless left has ruined the values of this country and only Trump can return America to the way of life of the 1950’s. The Trump is God strategy will likely be ignored by most Americans as an amusing side light to this bizarre presidency, but it does show how it will be difficult to defeat the President , especially in small town America,  when he is supported by a godly army of true believers.

To Boo or Not To Boo, That is the Question

October 29, 2019

Much has been made of the fan response during the 5th game of the World Series when President Trump and a coterie of his supporters showed up to watch the game. In short, many of the fans took a page out of the Trump rallies and booed the president, shouted “lock him up” and waved signs that called for his impeachment. Almost immediately liberal critics tried to remind folks that when Republicans go low, Democrats go high, meaning such behavior was uncalled for and unnecessary. Such a position did not sit well with the “boo birds” who had been waiting for an opportunity to get Trump out of his comfort zone among his base and embarrass him on national television. Many simply stated that it just made them feel good to give the President some of his own medicine.

Of course booing a siting president is nothing new in American politics. Anytime a president goes to a sporting event or throws out the first ball during the World Series there is always evidence of contrarian viewpoints expressed with the old fashioned “Bronx cheer.” Does this kind of juvenile outburst do any good or change the course of national politics? Certainly not. But we live in a time when emotions are ragged about the President and the state of our country. Rather than rational discussions about our president, the impeachment inquiry and our divided nation, we have descended into middle school chants and barroom antics.

Sadly as this impeachment process moves forward expect heightened unsportsmanlike conduct – smear campaigns, slandering true patriots, unsubstantiated charges and  counter charges, conspiracy theories, and daily tweets from the Commander in Chief, Nancy Pelosi, Rudy Guiliani and a host of other characters from both sides in his epic struggle for power and control. Perhaps public hearings on the charges likely to come from the Democratic leadership in the House may serve to lessen the emotional outburst, but don’t count on it. There is always a way to spin statements and contradict testimony. We will just have to live with this political circus, even though impeachment is serious business and the fate of the presidency and indeed the constitution is at center stage.

So as Americans if you relish political spectacle, mean-spirited comments, partisan hi-jinks and cable news that isn’t news, then sit back and enjoy returning to the theater of the absurd. It’s only going to get worse.