“You say you’ll change the Constitution,
Well you know
We all want to change your head.”
— John Lennon; Revolution
The Constitution of the United States provides that there are to be three co-equal branches of our federal government. These include the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. During the time of the last three presidencies, strong cases have been made that the other two branches are “broken.” That’s a polite way of saying the legislative and judicial branches have been corrupted. Let’s take a look some history.
In its early days, the nation was a republic; in the first decade of the nineteenth century, Thomas Jefferson successfully advocated transforming it into a democracy. Although still imperfect, this attempt to create a balance between republican and democratic tendencies was a significant step forward in creating “a more perfect union.”
In the beginning of his 2005 book “The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln” (W.W. Norton & Co.), Sean Wilentz notes that the word “republic” comes from “res publica,’ meaning “public thing” administered by wealthy, educated men. “Democracy” comes from “demos krateo,” meaning “rule of the people.” The Federalists of the day believed democracy was dangerous, and that the wealthy, educated (white) men should hold the reins of power, alone determining who would “represent” the public interest.
It would be an error to believe that the two current major parties are firmly rooted in the context of those definitions. Indeed, the Constitution does not speak of any political party or parties. In the beginning, there were no parties. By the Civil War era, there were dozens of political parties. This produced, for example, what is known as the Golden Age of the US Senate.
The post-Civil War era produced the Gilded Age. The heads of industry were able exert undo influence upon the government. Between the years 1865 and 1900, for example, politicians literally gave the railroad robber barons approximately a quarter millions miles of land –more than the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin combined.
Shifts in industrial production in the middle of the century resulted in President Eisenhower delivering his famous farewell address, in which he warned the nation about the un-democratic tendencies of the military-industrial complex. Less well known is that in his thirty-plus “rough drafts” of the speech, Ike referred to it as the military-industrial-congressional complex” in the vast majority of the drafts. (Jim Newton; Eisenhower: The White House Years; Doubleday; 2011)
In 2006, authors Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein published, “The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America” (Oxford). Their bipartisan effort to define the issues clearly, so that solutions could be identified, was ignored by the leaders of both political parties. Both the House and Senate have become further corrupted in the decade since.
Vincent Bugliosi’s 2001 book, “The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President” (Thunder’s Mouth Press) documented the vile corruption of the US Supreme Court. Combined, these two books suggest that President Eisenhower should have stuck with the “military-industrial-congressional complex” description of the threat to our constitutional democracy.
While there have been hundred of books published in recent decades attacking specific presidents — some good, some bad, and almost exclusively partisan — the last serious book to examine the dangers of the executive branch was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s 1973 “The Imperial Presidency.” In it, the author documents how almost without exception, each president has expanded the powers of office beyond what is constitutional. At the time the book was published, virtually no president had willingly relinquished those unconstitutional powers that his predecessors had added to the Oval Office.
In each instance, the president had justified his power-grab by citing some foreign and/or domestic “threat” to the nation. In some instances, these threats were certainly real. However, few justified the power-grab, and none had justified institutionalizing that new power.
Those presidents who most seriously abused the Constitution always did one of two things: either they purposely lied outright about the nature of the “threat,” or — more often — engaged in these activities secretly. Doing so, especially the secrecy bit — makes the actual balance of equal powers almost impossible. This was particularly true during the recent Bush-Cheney administration, as detailed in dozens of serious books published since 2003.
The Obama administration, which has been an improvement in many areas of the Bush-Cheney presidency, has still maintained unconstitutional powers. These are related to “national security,” of course, and include numerous military conflicts our nation is engaged in. More, they fund the “private forces,” or mercenaries, that became high profile in the Bush-Cheney years, though these adventures are also kept secret from the public.
There is good reason for those who believe that our nation should return to it’s Constitutional roots to consider what, if anything, might bring that option about. Clearly, the influx of “big money” in elections makes it far more difficult — though not entirely impossible. While the 1% and corporations exercise undue influence, they are not invincible.
President Eisenhower’s original warning of a military-industrial-congressional complex is definitely one of the major stumbling blocks. In a very real sense, this raises serious questions about the current two party system. As Minister Malcolm X noted, it provides voters with a choice: to be attacked by a fox, or a wolf. One smiles to your face, and bites you from behind when you least expect it; the other simply bites you. They are both members of the same canine family, serving as attack canines for that elite 1%.
Still, the rise of a populist in the Democratic Party’s primaries, and even of a neo-populist in the republican contests, indicates that voters have the potential to upset the apple cart. This does not imply that the current two party system works — for the Democratic machine cheated every member of the Sanders Revolution, and the republican machine is conflicted about supporting Trump.
Some people have firmly decided who they will vote for in November. Others haven’t, and that’s fine: there is plenty of time to make a final decision. What is apparent, however, is that progressive in the Democratic Party must continue to work with our family and friends among the Democratic Left. We need to keep in mind what Onondaga Chief Paul Waterman taught me when I was young: alone, we are like individual fingers that our enemy can easily twist and break; together, we form a powerful fist that is fully capable of defending all of our rights.
The Clinton vs. Trump establishment contest appears stark on the surface. The Democratic establishment’s mantra is that we have a moral/ ethical duty to defeat poor Donald. Yet, a few things seem self-evident: first, if Trump is actually as dangerously unhinged as being portrayed, the larger establishment — which consists of the economic elites — will not allow him to “win,” no matter how many votes he actually gets; or, second, his original goal was to knee-cap Jeb Bush, and has been expanded to divide and damage the republican party.
Either way, the Clinton campaign is seeking a landslide victory, to pretend Clinton has a mandate. In fact, her “mandate” is to benefit the 1% first, and then the 10%. To accomplish that, of course, she would work closely with the republicans in Congress.
Thus, it would appear that in order for the progressive community to exercise its power, there needs to be a large vote for Jill Stein. I understand that some progress members of the Democratic Party will vote for Clinton. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. But it is important that the Green Party’s candidate wins the support of several of the fingers that comprise our fist.