Has bias undermined the morale of the Republican parties

United States

Eva Marlene Hausteiner

To person

is a research fellow at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn and is currently a John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA. [email protected]

    It is safe to say that the real test of a good system of government is its ability and tendency to produce good government and administration.

    Alexander Hamilton, 68th Federalist Article (1788)
Even as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump attacked central democratic norms such as freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the independence of the courts and individual equality and surrounded himself with supporters of authoritarian worldviews. Even since his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States on January 20, 2017, there has been no sign of any "presidentialization" or any adaptation of his behavior to the democratic norms. American democracy thus appears to be faced with a stress test. Many observers share the fear that Trump's presidency could undermine the credibility and stability of the democratic project of liberalism and pluralism. [1] More optimistic voices, on the other hand, point to the encircling power of the US institutions, which could prevent democracy from being dismantled: There is repeated talk of the reliability of the checks and balances - a security mechanism that the founding fathers enshrined in the US constitution with the aim of controlling power. Yet there is actually reason to believe that American democracy is thanks to the checks and balances Trump will survive unscathed? [2]

Against tyranny

Both checks and balances These are instruments for controlling and shaping power, which were designed in the early stages of the United States with the aim of protecting the liberal republican form of government by constantly putting the constitutional organs in their place. Instead of an intertwining of the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, as is common in parliamentary systems such as the Federal Republic, they remain largely separate from one another in the US constitution, but always related to one another. [3]

The president is elected by the people through an intermediate electoral body, but is subject to the control of Congress up to and including possible impeachment. For its part, Congress is dependent on the President, who can only veto legislative initiatives with a two-thirds majority. The Supreme Federal Judges nominated by the President and examined by the Senate, but appointed for life, are tasked with protecting civil rights against the ambitions of those in power, but are themselves subject to legislative and executive control. [4]

The statesmen Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay defended the draft for the constitution, which is still valid today, in 1787/88 in the "Federalist Papers", 85 articles published in several New York newspapers, with reference to this innovation of power control: They promised one A politically new form of stability that restricts power, but at the same time increases it. [5] The founding fathers countered their critics with the claim that they had learned from the decay history of other large-scale republics: A clever constitution could enable a central government capable of acting and still - through checks and balances, federal power-sharing and representation - banish the danger of excessive concentration of power and thus of tyranny. [6]

Behind this logic of shaping power stands a rather sober image of man: Individuals are inevitably from their passions (passions) directed. Madison, Hamilton and Jay pleaded for this supposed weakness to be converted constructively by means of a mechanic of passions: "Striving for power must counteract the striving for power. There must be an inner connection between the personal interests of the incumbent and the constitutional rights of the office. (...) If people were angels If angels ruled the people, then there would be no need for internal or external controls of the rulers. However, if one designs a system of government of people over people, then the great difficulty is this: one must first empower the rulers, the ruled and then force them to observe the limits of their own power. "[7] In the eyes of the authors, this institutional strategy of shaping power represented a groundbreaking political innovation.

But the constitutional fathers also recognized the limits of their model: "A republic, if you can keep it," replied Benjamin Franklin after a decision by the constituent assembly in 1787 when asked what kind of structure the newly founded United States was. [ 8th] There is a latent fragility inherent in the system, despite its steeling by security mechanisms: A balance between the passions of the population and the interest groups (factions) only works as long as a minimum of civic virtue is guaranteed on the part of the rulers. So that checks and balances they must also be used. For this it is not enough if officials follow their striving for power - the decisive factor is the selection of the people's representatives according to their talents and orientation towards the common good, especially in the highest constitutional organs. Institutions must therefore privilege virtue in the elite selection process and keep the totally unsuitable away from the levers of power. The form of government builds on a certain trust in the virtue of the officials - but also on the promotion of virtue. [9]

This conviction explains the prominent role of the Senate, a "moderate and respected body of fellow citizens" [10] with the task of controlling the executive, judiciary and legislature. The existence of the electoral committee, which has often been declared obsolete, whose members appointed by the people are only responsible for their conscience when electing the president, is also due to the virtue imperative of the founding fathers. In spite of all the liberal arguments for a market-like interplay of individual ambitions, they ultimately committed themselves to a republican stance based on the common good and virtue of a select elite. Your republic is not a pure democracy, but implies aristocratic elements insofar as the population is represented by selected representatives who are considered to be particularly virtuous and efficient and who are supposed to guarantee the stability of the liberal order.

The Trump test

With the Trump presidency, not only is the stability of constitutional norms in question for the coming years; their structural erosion could also have long-term effects. His plans to de facto restrict the right to vote and clear the public education system, as well as his attacks on the rule of law and the delegitimization of the free press and the independent judiciary, have the potential to cause lasting damage.

The actors entrusted by the constitution with power control, whose task it would be to defuse these threats to the constitution, have so far hardly been active. A first opportunity already passed in autumn 2016. In view of the many early warning signals, the electoral college, which existed specifically for this purpose, could have intervened before the handover to Trump: According to the constitution, the body not only has the possibility, but the Republican duty, to elect an unsuitable candidate for the US -Presidents to stop. This unique independence of the electorate serves the "moral certainty" that "the office of president will never fall to a man who does not possess the requisite qualities. The aptitude for common intrigue and the little tricks of popularity might suffice to promote a man to the head of a state, but other gifts are required "for the presidency. [11] The committee did not make use of this control option and thus again submitted itself to the allegation of obsolescence. [12]

Since Trump's inauguration, it has been the duty of Congress to put the president in the place of the constitution. The Constitutional Fathers assessed the stabilizing role of the legislature and especially the Senate as essential - as "proactive security against the tyranny of their own passions". [13] Specifically, this means that, according to the US constitution, MPs can block problematic cabinet nominations in the Senate, exercise their budgetary rights and parliamentary supervisory rights vis-à-vis the executive branch and, in extreme cases, remove the president from office.

In reality, the legislature's control of Trump's previous political decisions is extremely weak. Although democratic MPs point out latent and escalating grievances in a way that is effective in public, they are institutionally incapable of acting due to their minority position. The formation of a cross-party countervailing power is not emerging. The Republican members of the House of Representatives as well as the traditionally more independent senators prioritize maintaining their position of power in the unified governmentas the constellation is called in which both the presidency and both chambers of Congress are dominated by the same party. As a party, the Republicans are signaling that they are putting their own short-term agenda above democratic procedures and norms - and thus particular interests above the common good. In this context, the failure of the health reform in March 2017 should be understood less as resistance to the president than as a symptom of internal party disagreement.

The numerous violations of the code of ethics by the presidential administration, such as the promotion of the fashion collection of Trump's daughter Ivanka by the presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, have not yet been punished by the responsible, all Republican-dominated congress bodies. The chairman of the oversight committee, Jason Chaffetz, only recommended that disciplinary measures be considered, but they did not materialize. Even more serious is the appointment of cabinet members who, like the former head of the oil company Exxon-Mobile, Rex Tillerson, now foreign minister, or the former hedge fund manager Steven Mnuchin, now finance minister, are entangled in conflicts of interest - and not just the Republicans and below Loud critics such as Senator John McCain ultimately supported the presidential agenda, as did numerous Democratic senators. What is particularly astonishing is the refusal of many Republican members of the Congress to have the Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election investigated by an independent special investigator and thus to prevent future manipulations that could potentially affect their own party. Added to this is the extensive tolerance of ongoing attacks on the judiciary and the free press: the President acknowledged unpleasant court rulings on the entry ban by designating Federal Judge James Robart as a "so-called judge", while the press initially referred to the "opposition" and then even to Enemy of the American People "has been declared. What is new is not the conflict with the judiciary or the journalistic "fourth power", but the open attempt to delegitimize criticism of oneself. Few Republican members of Congress have spoken out to defend freedom of the press and the rule of law.

So far, only the judiciary has put the president within the constitutional limits on specific projects such as the entry ban for citizens of seven Muslim countries. However, the courts are the very last bulwark of the rule of law, which can only intervene occasionally - on the occasion of specific laws and decrees - and often with considerable delay. Thus the "war on terror" declared in the era of George W. Bush could not be defused entirely, but only at critical legal points; the circumvention of the civil courts, which began in 2002, was only rejected years later. And the judiciary is also closely involved in the system of checks and balances involved: Although the Supreme Court can override laws, it is not extra-political. With the appointment of new judges for life, the President has the option of at least reducing legal resistance to his plans in the long term in the event of a vacancy.