Featuring essays by Elizabeth George on the future of our country
Toddlers 4 President!
Democratic Convention 2016: How It Might Have Been
On Matters of the Lie, the War, and Judgment
On Getting What We Deserve
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In the midst of this anxiety-producing Presidential primary season, it appears that two of the Presidential candidates have actually lost the plot. The plot is not promises. Nor is it reckless declarations. And it is not a recitation of visions a la George Bernard Shaw’s “But I see things as they never were” line. The plot is the legislative process. The plot is creating the legislation that will fulfill the promises being made and bring to life the ideas being put forth.

If we’ve learned nothing else from the last eight years, we have learned that the Presidency brings with it very little actual power. The executive branch of the government—which, of course, is the Presidency—neither makes laws nor effects change unless the Legislative branch of the government wishes this to occur. If the Legislative branch—the House of Representatives and the Senate—does not wish this to happen, it doesn’t happen. Even if the President’s own party manages to achieve a majority in the House and the Senate, it is quite possible that nothing will happen as a result. For a super majority must be attained, since only a super majority can vote to stop a filibuster.

This being the case, it’s essential that the President, the Vice-President, the Cabinet, and the staffs of all these people have relationships that they can call upon because relationships equate to compromises which ultimately lead to pieces of legislation getting out of committees and onto the floor of the House and then the Senate for votes.

We can see how all this has affected President Obama’s time in office. Although he entered office with a majority in the House and the Senate, he did not have a supermajority there, so things got stalled. Additionally, the Republican representatives in the House played bait and switch with their Democratic colleagues, offering proposals for compromise on various bills, having those compromises accepted, and then voting against the very measures on which they offered to compromise when those measures came to the floor. Despite his majorities in the Legislature, despite relationships built there, despite having a Vice President who’d spent his entire career in the Senate, pushing something through the Legislative branch of the government became like pushing a bull through quick sand. And the opposition inside the Legislative branch of the government was very open about their intentions to thwart President Obama at every turn. Majority Leader from 2010 onward, Senator Mitch McConnell—as no doubt you know—said that his top priority was to make President Obama a one-term President.

If we could examine what was going on inside the Senator’s mind when he made that public declaration, we would probably arrive at the conclusion of a misplaced priority on the part of a man who would place his passions above the good of the country. But that’s not the point. The point is power: who has it, who wields it best, and who understands the importance of relationships in governing a country of over 300 million people.

In Donald Trump we see someone who appears to believe that declarations made from the Oval Office are written in concrete and that his stated beliefs on any particular topic of national interest are made ex cathedra. He announces that a wall will be built along the border with Mexico, and so it shall be. He announces that the Mexican government shall pay for the wall, and so it shall be. He announces that there will be an indefinite moratorium on Muslims entering the United States for any reason, and so it shall be. He announces the deportation of eleven million illegal immigrants and their US born children, and so it shall be. He announces an end to trade agreements, and so it shall be. He announces that he will route out ISIS and destroy them, and so it shall be. The passion of his followers indicates that they too believe things will be as Mr. Trump indicates they will be.

What Mr. Trump either fails to understand or does not wish to consider is that nothing happens without the Legislative branch of the government wanting it to happen or agreeing that it ought to happen. What Mr. Trump fails to understand is that without the friendship of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, his smallest idea will not even see the light of legislative day. For the Speaker of the House determines the agenda, not Mr. Trump. And if the Speaker of the House decides that the President of the United States needs to be stopped in his tracks, that is exactly what will happen.

If we apply this same scenario to Senator Bernie Sanders, we can also see—as Lady Macbeth put it—“the future in an instant.” The Senator’s followers—as passionate as are Mr. Trump’s—have been promised a great deal. Mr. Sanders has said there will be universal government-paid health care, and so it shall be. Mr. Sanders has said state colleges and universities will be free, and so it shall be. Mr. Sanders has said that Wall Street will be brought under strict supervision by the government, and so it shall be. Mr. Sanders has said that election reform will happen, and so it shall be. Mr. Sanders has said that billionaires and millionaires will “pay their fair share”, and so it shall be. Mr. Sanders has said that inheritance taxes will increase dramatically, and so it shall be. Mr. Sanders has said that the minimum wage will be increased to $17/hour, and so it shall be.

To do these things, Mr. Sanders will fall back upon his relationships in the Senate and the House and upon an organization that will be born among his followers in order to elect—in two years hence—like-minded Representatives and Senators from whom will be chosen the Speaker of the House, the majority leader of the Senate, and enough Congressmen and –women to form the supermajority needed to stop filibusters. The only problems with this strategy are Mr. Sanders’ current lack of support in either the House or the Senate—which I suppose can be considered a minor issue if those members of Congress who don’t support him are all replaced in 2018—and the startling amount of money that his sweeping changes would cost.
But the point is this: Somewhere along the line, these two Presidential contenders have come to believe that the power of the Presidency supersedes the power of the Legislature. But it does not, and the reason for this is that the Founding Fathers were determined to keep the power of the President in check so that tyranny could be avoided. Hence they established what we all learned in Civics class is called a system of Checks and Balances. They did not want a king, they did not want a tyrant, and they did not want a dictator—benevolent or otherwise. They knew that what they were establishing in the Constitution comprised any number of risks because at the end of the day, their government was going to depend upon the will of the people as well as on the ability of the people to distinguish between truth and lies, facts and fictions, dreams and reality, ignorance and knowledge.

They had reservations. They were drawing up their constitution in a period of time when very few people were thoroughly educated. Because of this, they designed their system for electing a President to have a form of checks and balances also. These consisted of delegates whose responsibility would be to select the best candidate to run as their party’s nominee for President. And just to be absolutely certain that no charlatan managed to pull the wool over the eyes of voters and delegates alike, they included a group of people they called the Electoral College, who would essentially put their stamp of approval on the election a few months after it occurred. And these people became the most powerful of all for they could, if they felt it essential, overturn the will of the voters, nullify the election, and give the Presidency to someone else, such as the other candidate. In my lifetime that has never happened although in 2000 the will of the people was expressed through the election of Al Gore to the Presidency while the electoral college—with electors coming from every state—gave the election upon the orders of the Supreme Court to George W. Bush. A simplistic way of putting it, I know. But essentially that is what happened when the Supreme Court decided that the entire issue of the Florida Presidential election in 2000 was going to be laid to rest not by a public counting of the votes but by their decree. The Founding Fathers were no doubt spinning in their graves at that point, but Vice President Gore put the country before his personal ambition and accepted the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Putting the country first is, I believe, now falling by the wayside in the candidacy of Donald Trump as well as in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump sees in the Presidency an opportunity to fill, finally, the vast emptiness inside of him that has caused him to seek attention most of his life. More than any other Presidential candidate in my memory, he wears his narcissism on his sleeve. We have seen it in his constant reference to what the polls say about him, in his ceaseless phoning into talk radio shows and television talk shows to express himself, in his inability to restrain himself from using Twitter as a means of communication and denigration. In the deepest part of himself where he fears to go, he believes that the Presidency will make him whole. The fact that he despises himself at heart can be seen in his inability to let the smallest slight go unaddressed. Bullies like Donald Trump are bullies because they are afraid. They are aggressors because they believe the only way to keep themselves safe is to strike first or to strike at once when something upsets them. Because they lack the self-awareness to know why they do what they do, they continue to do it. Thus all along Donald Trump has shown what kind of President he would be. On the national stage he’s shown his damaged psyche and he’s been richly rewarded for doing so. On the international stage, he will do the same. I believe, however, that the outcome will be vastly different.

Putting the country first is, in my opinion, also falling by the wayside in the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Whereas at the beginning he was about making critical changes in the national life of the United States in order to lift people up, now he is about “what the polls say”; about complaining about the very primary system that put him where he is today; about trashing the Democratic party; about attacking the chairman of the Democratic party and announcing his intention to replace her when and if he is elected; about denigrating his opponent. A candidacy that began with lofty goals, a commitment to transparency, and an interest in countering societal ills has degenerated into threats of chaos at the convention, anonymous and menacing phone calls made to state democratic chairmen and –women, demands for alterations in rules that were put in place at the beginning of the primary process, and oblique predictions of what will happen should he not get what he wants in Philadelphia.

So in an odd way, we have come to essentially the same place in both parties although we have taken different routes to get there. We have two individuals running for President who are doing so out of self-interest and ego instead of out of patriotism. In order to have his way, Donald Trump lied, insulted opponents, engaged in gutter politics of a kind we have never before seen (witness, please, his not-quite-veiled suggestion that Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy), used the news media as a means of free advertising, and celebrated and exploited the xenophobia, racism, ignorance, and base hatreds of his supporters. In order to have his way, Bernie Sanders spent months raging about a speech that his opponent made and for which she was paid, repeated ad nauseum his plans for the future without a single allusion to how his plans were going to be achieved, banged on about “what the polls say” about Bernie Sanders (referring to himself in the 3rd person as if the royal “we” was just around the corner), boasted about who was sending him money versus who was sending his opponent money, made a Senatorial vote on the war in Iraq the cornerstone of why he should be President, and did nothing to discourage his supporters from disrupting rallies and ultimately disrupting an entire convention. In both of these men, we see the manner in which ego defeats other. Ego demands the acknowledgement and legitimacy each man believes the Presidency will give him. Ego demands personal needs be fulfilled before the needs of the other. In this case, the other is the American people.

Donald Trump is a fait accompli for the Republican party. What could have been a disaster—the GOP convention—will now be…whatever Donald Trump wants it to be. Meantime, on the other side, Bernie Sanders has the opportunity to do what Hillary Clinton did in 2008. Do you remember? After a long and bitter campaign that went on till the bitter end—just like this one—Hillary Clinton walked onto the convention floor, joined the New York delegation, and made a motion that Senator Barack Obama be declared the Democratic nominee through a unanimous vote. In doing that, Hillary Clinton put the American people—the nation—above her ego. Which is, actually, what a patriot does.

If something similar to that doesn’t occur when the Democrats meet at their convention this summer, if whoever has insufficient delegates for the nomination on the day the first vote is taken does not walk onto the floor in support of the opponent, you can welcome Donald Trump next January into the Oval Office, a President for the digital age: ignorant, ill-informed, politically uneducated, and happy to be so.

Candidates always show us who they are ultimately. When we vote for them, we get the government that we deserve.

- Elizabeth George
Whidbey Island
Washington State



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