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by Hans Dembowski

The USA is in constitutional crisis

The USA will hold elections in two months. If President Donald Trump's Republican Party keeps control of both houses of Congress, the country's constitutional crisis will deepen. If you don't trust my word on this matter, check out what leading North American media pundits are saying.

Some of the columnists and commentators I am referring to have, of course, always endorsed the Democratic Party, but others are conservative authors who consistently criticised Trump's predecessor Barack Obama.

The situation is certainly serious. Paul Krugman, the economics Nobel laureate who also works as a New York Times columnist, states very clearly that nothing less than the future democracy is at stake in the midterm elections. Krugman summarises various actions taken by Republicans to perpetuate their grip on power regardless of what the citizens want. One trick is to making sure that people who are more likely to vote for Democrats and Republicans find it hard to register as voters. Another is to design constituencies in a way that there are a few with huge Democratic majorities and many others with smaller but equally safe Republican majorities. The result is many Republican legislators but only few Democratic ones even when the vote is evenly split.

Another way to stifle the opposition long term is to make sure the courts are biased in one’s favour. Indeed, Republicans are reshaping the federal judiciary by appointing judges who share their ideology. The most prominent example at the moment is the attempt to rush through the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Jill Filipovich spelled out the many things that fly in the face of the standard norms of judicial appointments in a comment in The Guardian.

The process has been hasty and opaque. Obviously, Republican senators want to rush it through before potentially losing their slim majority on which their ability to confirm judges depends on. They have already abolished the old rule according to which Supreme Court justices needed a supermajority of 60 Senate votes, rather than merely a majority of 51.

Kavanaugh, by the way, was one of the prosecutors who, led by Kenneth Starr, investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. They considered all sorts of crimes, including murder. All they could find was extramarital sex between Clinton and a consenting adult. Clinton’s behavior was morally appalling, but his only crime was to lie about it.  

Kavanaugh has since declared that a president should be left in peace to do his job. Trump, of course, would like nothing better than prosecutors to leave him in peace. In view of his many scandals, he would certainly like the Supreme Court to think that way too. As Filipovich makes clear: “This president is now in a position where he is selecting one of the judges who may eventually judge him – a clear conflict of interest if there ever was one.” This is definitely not how separation of powers looks like.

Bill Clinton's misbehavior never put national security at risk. In the case of Trump, however, there is reason to believe that his campaign colluded with the Russian government. That is what the current investigations are about. The investigators obviously must consider related issues such as campaign-finance, because evidence might lead to proof of collusion.

Trump's former campaign manager has recently been found guilty of tax fraud and his former personal lawyer has confessed to campaign-finance crimes, declaring that he paid hush money to a porn star on behalf of Trump, so their affair would not become known during the election campaign. According to US law, any spending related to an election campaign must be declared. The hush money was kept secret.

In the eyes of Max Boot, a Washington Post columnist, Trump has therefore lost his legitimacy.

Boot's point is that it is now evident that Trump broke the law to win the elections. Boot, by the way, is not a left-leaning writer. On the contrary, he always supported Republicans before Trump became the presidential candidate. His next book will elaborate why he no longer is a Republican but now considers himself an independent.

Jennifer Rubin is another conservative Trump critic. She is an incredibly prolific writer who blogs for the Washington Post and used to lambast the Obama administration on an almost daily basis. Yesterday, by contrast, she posted a comment in which she fully endorsed the former president’s campaign to mobilise voters for Democrats in in the midterms: "That’s a message independents and persuadable Republicans need to hear over and over again. (…) No president has attacked our institutions in the way President Trump has; no Congress has abdicated its role as a co-equal branch to the extent this Congress has. Because Republicans refuse to shoulder their constitutional obligations, voters concerned about fortifying our democracy must deprive the GOP of majorities in one or both houses. It’s the only way to get oversight, to hold Trump accountable and to begin the process of restoring democratic norms."

These days, Rubin keeps reiterating that she is disappointed in Republicans and that she believes they deserve to lose elections because they no longer stand for democratic and republican value. Sometimes she proposes starting a new conservative party for the USA, and sometimes she invites people to vote for Democrats. She leaves no doubt whatsoever that she sees the USA in a deep constitutional crisis.

According to opinion polls, the Democrats are likely to regain the House of Representatives and may even win the Senate. To get a majority in the House, however, they will need at least 55% of the vote, according to experts. The reason is that the way constituencies are cut in the United States benefits Republicans. They've been working on rigging the system for quite some time at the level of individual states. There power grabs will only intensify if they keep their majorities in both Houses of Congress.

If Democrats gain a majority in one chamber, the dynamics will change considerably. So far, the Republican-led Congress has shied away from its duties of oversight. If Democrats get the say in either the House or the Senate, they will start checking all the issues that Republicans show no interest in, including most prominently how Trump's businesses are benefiting from his presidency, and what foreign money has been flowing into their coffers. Since the USA is by far the most powerful and influential country, what happens in terms of governance there sets an important global example.

P.S.: The Washington Post and the New York Times's websites have pay walls, and perhaps you have already exceeded your monthly limit of pages. I have therefore used links to other media outlets that also publish contributions by the syndicated columnists referred to here.







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