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astralis
02 Mar 15,, 17:00
a very interesting read with a very provocative title. the whole presidential vs parliamentary trope is standard in any poli sci 101 course. it's a bit outside the scope of the article, but it's also important to note that parliamentary systems are not a cure all, either. the Italian political system, for instance...

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American democracy is doomed - Vox (http://www.vox.com/2015/3/2/8120063/american-democracy-doomed)

American democracy is doomed

by Matthew Yglesias on March 2, 2015

America's constitutional democracy is going to collapse.

Some day — not tomorrow, not next year, but probably sometime before runaway climate change forces us to seek a new life in outer-space colonies — there is going to be a collapse of the legal and political order and its replacement by something else. If we're lucky, it won't be violent. If we're very lucky, it will lead us to tackle the underlying problems and result in a better, more robust, political system. If we're less lucky, well, then, something worse will happen.

Very few people agree with me about this, of course. When I say it, people generally think that I'm kidding. America is the richest, most successful country on earth. The basic structure of its government has survived contested elections and Great Depressions and civil rights movements and world wars and terrorist attacks and global pandemics. People figure that whatever political problems it might have will prove transient — just as happened before.
Rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right
But voiced in another register, my outlandish thesis is actually the conventional wisdom in the United States. Back when George W. Bush was president and I was working at a liberal magazine, there was a very serious discussion in an editorial meeting about the fact that the United States was now exhibiting 11 of the 13 telltale signs of a fascist dictatorship. The idea that Bush was shredding the Constitution and trampling on congressional prerogatives was commonplace. When Obama took office, the partisan valence of the complaints shifted, but their basic tenor didn't. Conservative pundits — not the craziest, zaniest ones on talk radio, but the most serious and well-regarded — compare Obama's immigration moves to the actions of a Latin-American military dictator.

In the center, of course, it's an article of faith that when right and left talk like this they're simply both wrong. These are nothing but the overheated squeals of partisans and ideologues.

At the same time, when the center isn't complaining about the excessively vociferous complaints of the out-party of the day, it tends to be in full-blown panic about the state of American politics. And yet despite the popularity of alarmist rhetoric, few people act like they're actually alarmed. Accusations that Barack Obama or John Boehner or any other individual politician is failing as a leader are flung, and then abandoned when the next issue arises. In practice, the feeling seems to be that salvation is just one election away. Hillary Clinton even told Kara Swisher recently that her agenda if she runs for president is to end partisan gridlock.

It's not going to work.

The breakdown of American constitutional democracy is a contrarian view. But it's nothing more than the view that rather than everyone being wrong about the state of American politics, maybe everyone is right. Maybe Bush and Obama are dangerously exceeding norms of executive authority. Maybe legislative compromise really has broken down in an alarming way. And maybe the reason these complaints persist across different administrations and congresses led by members of different parties is that American politics is breaking down.

The perils of presidential democracy

To understand the looming crisis in American politics, it's useful to think about Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria. These are countries that were defeated by American military forces during the Second World War and given constitutions written by local leaders operating in close collaboration with occupation authorities. It's striking that even though the US Constitution is treated as a sacred text in America's political culture, we did not push any of these countries to adopt our basic framework of government.

This wasn't an oversight.

In a 1990 essay, the late Yale political scientist Juan Linz observed that "aside from the United States, only Chile has managed a century and a half of relatively undisturbed constitutional continuity under presidential government — but Chilean democracy broke down in the 1970s."

The exact reasons for why are disputed among scholars — in part because you can't just randomly assign different governments to people. One issue here is that American-style systems are much more common in the Western Hemisphere and parliamentary ones are more common elsewhere. Latin-American countries have experienced many episodes of democratic breakdown, so distinguishing Latin-American cultural attributes from institutional characteristics is difficult.

Still, Linz offered several reasons why presidential systems are so prone to crisis. One particularly important one is the nature of the checks and balances system. Since both the president and the Congress are directly elected by the people, they can both claim to speak for the people. When they have a serious disagreement, according to Linz, "there is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved." The constitution offers no help in these cases, he wrote: "the mechanisms the constitution might provide are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate."

In a parliamentary system, deadlocks get resolved. A prime minister who lacks the backing of a parliamentary majority is replaced by a new one who has it. If no such majority can be found, a new election is held and the new parliament picks a leader. It can get a little messy for a period of weeks, but there's simply no possibility of a years-long spell in which the legislative and executive branches glare at each other unproductively.

But within a presidential system, gridlock leads to a constitutional trainwreck with no resolution. The United States's recent government shutdowns and executive action on immigration are small examples of the kind of dynamic that's led to coups and putsches abroad.

There was, of course, the American exception to the problems of the checks-and-balances system. Linz observed on this score: "The uniquely diffuse character of American political parties — which, ironically, exasperates many American political scientists and leads them to call for responsible, ideologically disciplined parties — has something to do with it."

For much of American history, in other words, US political parties have been relatively un-ideological and un-disciplined. They are named after vague ideas rather than specific ideologies, and neither presidents nor legislative leaders can compel back-bench members to vote with them. This has often been bemoaned (famously, a 1950 report by the American Political Science Association called for a more rigorous party system) as the source of problems. It's also, according to Linz, helped avert the kind of zero-sum conflicts that have torn other structurally similar democracies apart. But that diffuse party structure is also a thing of the past.

A short history of American polarization

American politics is much more polarized today than it was 25 or 50 years ago. But not everyone buys the theory that today's era of party polarization spells big trouble. Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein argues that it's "not some sort of freakish un-American phenomenon." The real exception, Bernstein says, the middle of the twentieth century, when the parties weren't polarized. Polarization is the norm, he says, and he's right.

A long line of research starting with Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, political scientists at the University of Georgia and New York University respectively, records all congressional votes and then analyzes the types of political coalitions that emerge. This system, known as DW-NOMINATE, lets you measure the degree of party polarization precisely. When Democrats all vote one way and Republicans all vote the other way, politics is highly polarized. When votes frequently scramble the parties, it is less polarized.

What this research shows is that the steady march toward polarization over the past generation is a return to a situation that existed during an earlier period.

The story here, like so much in American politics, is race. Southern Democrats had a range of views on non-racial issues but monolithically supported white supremacy and held together in the Democratic Party to maximize their leverage in Congress. The result was that the Democratic Party included Northern liberals who supported civil rights and Southern conservatives who supported segregation. So polarization temporarily went away in Congress. But as segregation receded as an issue in American politics, the parties slowly but surely sorted themselves by ideology, and so today, there is no Republican in Congress more liberal than the most conservative Democrat, or vice-versa. American politics has re-polarized. According to Bernstein, this change may be discomfiting but it's nothing to worry about. American politics has been polarized before and it was fine.

What this story of reversion misses is the crucial role of ideology. Polarization and ideology are clearly related concepts, but simply counting congressional votes doesn't really tell us what those votes were about. Georgetown University Professor Hans Noel greatly improved our understanding of the relationship between the two by extending the DW-NOMINATE methodology to people who aren't elected officials.

For his book Political Parties and Political Ideologies in America, Noel constructs ideological space scores for writers and political pundits — people who address the same issues as elected officials but who are not serving on Capitol Hill.

What he found is that while Gilded Age members of Congress voted in a highly partisan way, their voting didn't reflect any polarization of ideas evident in broader American society. As Charles Calhoun, a leading scholar of Gilded Age politics has written, the main concern of actual members of Congress was not policy, but "patronage power, the privilege of placing one's political friends and supporters in in subordinate offices." In other words, a member of Congress would get to distribute federal jobs and contracts to his supporters and in exchange the beneficiaries of his patronage would support his party's ticket at all levels. For this reason, the obscure-sounding job of customs collector of the Port of New York was important enough in the 1870s that Chester A. Arthur leapt from it to the Vice Presidency. The first real filibuster was held over Whig efforts to assign a printing contract to friendly companies.
Since the president and Congress are elected by the people, they can both claim to speak for the people
Even though party discipline was strict in these days, it was not really about much beyond who held the spoils.

Over the course of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s the rise of progressive and liberal ideology and the formation of a conservative ideology to counter it upended this system. So much so that by the 1970s it had become common to observe that American political parties were in decline. University of California Irvine political scientist Martin Wattenberg achieved the apogee of this literature with his 1985 classic The Decline of Political Parties in America (since updated in five subsequent editions), citing the waning influence of party professionals, the rise of single-issue pressure groups, and an attendant fall in voter turnout. But as historian Sam Rosenfeld writes, under-the-hood changes in the process for selecting presidential nominees and Congressional leaders "ultimately helped to create a newly receptive institutional setting for issue-based activism within the parties," leading to the parties' reconstitution around modern ideological lines.

Today's partisan polarization, in other words, is not the same as its Gilded Age predecessor. The old polarization was about control over jobs and money — the kind of thing where split-the-difference compromises are easiest. That polarization was eventually undermined by a new politics built around principles. For decades, politicians found themselves cross-pressured between their commitments to a national party network and to various ideological causes. Today, however, politicians are no longer cross-pressured. We have strong Gilded Age-style parties, but organized around questions of principle rather than questions of patronage.

You can take this theory too far, of course. There have been moments in American life where questions of principle sharply split American politics. We had ideological parties (or at least one) in the 1850s when the anti-slavery Republican Party rose to the fore. But the example is not enormously encouraging — the constitutional process collapsed and we had four years of civil war, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and then, even after a Union victory, white supremacy was re-established in the South through a two-decade campaign of terrorism.

The Honduras scenario

Not all breakdowns of constitutional processes are as violent as the American Civil War.

For a less catastrophic, more realistic view of the kind of thing that could happen here, it's useful to look to some less-familiar but more-recent events in Honduras. Back in late 2008, left-wing President Manuel Zelaya was locked in persistent conflict with an opposition-controlled congress. With neither side able to prevail within the context of the existing system, Zelaya decided he wanted to add a fourth question to the upcoming November 2009 election. In addition to voting for president, congress, and municipal offices, Zelaya would ask the voters whether they wanted to hold a constituent assembly to re-write the constitution — presumably to allow him to run for re-election.

Unfortunately for Zelaya, Honduras' existing constitution made no provision for re-writing the constitution by plebiscite. Consequently, in March 2009, Zelaya determined that the solution was to hold another plebiscite. On June 28, Hondurans would go to the polls to vote in a non-binding referendum on whether the constitutional question should be added to the November ballot. This, he hoped, would give him the democratic legitimacy needed to go forward with the constitutional revision.

Zelaya's opponents in congress, evidently concerned that the president would win, sued. They won a court case enjoining the president against holding the referendum. Zelaya pressed ahead regardless.

In Honduras, the military typically assists with election logistics, so Zelaya ordered the army to begin distributing ballots. General Romeo Vแsquez Velแsquez, the chief the Honduran military, refused to comply. On May 24, Zelaya fired the general. Several other commanders quit in solidarity. The Supreme Court ruled that the dismissal was unconstitutional. Throughout June, the constitutional process essentially broke down with protests and counter-protests dominating the capital. On June 28, the Supreme Court ordered Zelaya arrested, and the military deposed him in a coup. Roberto Micheletti, the president of the National Congress, was installed in his stead.

The military quickly handed power over to a new group of civilians. The coup was legitimated by the National Congress and the Supreme Court. And its perpetrators argued with some justification that there was no constitutional alternative. Zelaya was trying to circumvent the rules, so they had no choice but to circumvent them too in response.

The deadlock was ultimately resolved by force rather than legal procedure. Zelaya did not have enough support to amend the constitution through the existing process, and his opponents did not have enough support to impeach Zelaya through the existing process. The Supreme Court arbitrarily ruled that Zelaya's effort to circumvent the amendment process via referendum was illegal, while Congress' effort to circumvent the impeachment process was fine. There were quite a few injuries as protesters clashed with security forces, but no massive bloodshed.

Honduras' coup is worth paying attention to not because the exact same scenario is likely to play out in the United States, but because it reveals how genuinely difficult it is to maintain constitutional politics in a presidential system.

Presidents feel themselves to be accountable for steering the nation. And all the evidence indicates that the public and the media do in fact hold presidents broadly accountable for national outcomes. Throughout the United States' 2012 presidential campaign, for example, it was universally assumed that good news for the American economy (or for America more broadly) would redound to Barack Obama's benefit even though control of policymaking was split between the White House and a GOP-dominated Congress.

As Obama put it in a November 2014 press conference, "people are going to ask for greater accountability and more responsibility from me than from anybody else in this town." The problem is the president is not only held accountable for things that are in part outside his ability to control (gas prices, Ebola, or shark attacks) but for things that are actually under the control of his political adversaries. "I'm the guy who's elected by everybody," concluded Obama, "and they want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done." If you're going to be held accountable for outcomes, in other words, then you'd better act.

In a parliamentary system, this is simply democratic accountability in action. A head of government who strongly believes the nation needs actions the legislature won't approve can dissolve parliament and hold a new election to decide the issue. In Honduras' presidential system, the very act of trying to schedule a vote to resolve the deadlock was itself unconstitutional.

Constitutional hardball

The United States, of course, is a long way from a coup. What we are witnessing instead is a rise in what Georgetown University Professor Mark Tushnet labeled "constitutional hardball" in a 2004 article.

Constitutional hardball describes legal and political moves "that are without much question within the bounds of existing constitutional doctrine and practice but that are nonetheless in some tension with existing pre-constitutional understanding." In other words, moves that do not violate the letter of the law, but do trample on our conventional understanding of how it is supposed to work.

Tushnet's article is vital reading today in part because the different partisan context in which it was written can help shock people out of their entrenched positions. His lead example is from the George W. Bush administration, when liberals were concerned about the president taking power away from Congress. Tushnet describes the "strained" argument offered by Republican senators in 2005 that Democratic Party filibusters of Bush's judicial nominees violated the constitution. At the time, of course, Democrats found the view that Republicans might simply ban the use of filibusters for this purpose outrageous. "The filibuster serves as a check on power," said Harry Reid, "that preserves our limited government." Joe Biden called the Republicans' attempt to end the fillibuster "an example of the arrogance of power."

But ultimately the hardball tactic for ending filibusters was used by Democrats in 2013 to halt Republican obstruction of Obama's nominees. Republicans, Reid said, "have done everything they can to deny the fact that Obama had been elected and then reelected." He argued he had no choice but to abandon a principle that just a few years ago he said was crucial to preserving American liberty. Meanwhile, Republicans who had supported the 2005 effort to weaken the filibuster executed a perfect flip-flop in the other direction.

Tushnet's other example from the mid-2000s — Texas' decision to redraw congressional district boundaries to advantage Republicans between censuses — seems almost adorably quaint by the standards of the Obama era.

From its very first months, Obama's presidency has been marked by essentially nothing but constitutional hardball. During the Bush years, Democratic senators sporadically employed a variety of unusual delaying tactics to stymie his agenda. In 2009, Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans retaliated by using tons of them, constantly. Suddenly filibustering went from something a Senate minority could do to something it did on pretty much all motions. George Washington University congressional scholar Sarah Binder observes that "leaders in the 1970s rarely felt compelled to file for cloture [to break filibusters], averaging fewer than one per month in some years" while in recent years Reid has filed over once per week.

As Jim Manley, a former aid to the Democratic Senate leadership, explained to The Atlantic, the obstruction not only prevented many of Obama's more controversial measures from becoming law; it also drastically altered the process of even routine governance.

"Say you want to break a filibuster. On Monday, you file cloture on a motion to proceed for a vote on Wednesday. Assuming you get it, your opponents are allowed 30 hours of debate post-cloture on the motion to proceed. That takes you to Friday, and doesn't cover amendments. The following Monday you file cloture on the bill itself, vote Wednesday, then 30 more hours of debate, and suddenly two weeks have gone by, for something that's not even controversial."

As a political strategy, McConnell's tactics were vindicated by the 2010 midterms, which showed that making the president look partisan, clumsy, and inept was a winning strategy.

Republicans in Congress subsequently moved beyond unusual acts of obstruction to an unprecedented use of the statutory debt ceiling into a vehicle for policymaking. Traditionally a bit of oddball American political theater immortalized in a funny West Wing scene, in 2011 the GOP threatened to provoke an unfathomable financial and constitutional crisis unless the Obama administration agreed to sweeping spending cuts. Again, there was nothing illegal about what Republicans in Congress did here — it was just, in its intent and its scope, unprecedented.

And it's fairly clear that these actions, while consistent with Republican Party electoral success, have not exactly produced a well-respected legislature. Congressional approval ratings are so low — and have been for so long — that it's become a subject of pollster humor. In 2013, Public Policy Polling found that congress was less popular than Genghis Khan, traffic jams, cockroaches, or Nickelback. In a less joking spirit, Gallup finds that the voters have less confidence in Congress than any other American institution, including big business, organized labor, banks, or television news.

As relations with Congress have worsened, the Obama administration has set about expanding executive authority over domestic policy to match Bush-era unilateralism in the national security domain. This came to the fore most publicly with Obama's decision to protect millions of unauthorized migrants from deportation without congressional agreement.
The practical issue would be not so much what is legal, but what people would actually tolerate
As Vox's Andrew Prokop has argued, the pattern is actually much broader. Obama's handling of K-12 education policy is in some ways an even more paradigmatic example of constitutional hardball. The George W. Bush-era education law No Child Left Behind laid out penalties for state education systems that didn't meet certain, rather unrealistic, targets. The law's authors assumed that when the law came up for reauthorization, the targets would be changed. In case Congress didn't act in time, the Secretary of Education also had the authority to issue waivers of the penalties. Since Congress no longer really functions, there has been no reauthorization of the law. So the Obama administration has issued waivers — but only to states that implement policy changes ordered by the Department of Education.

University of Chicago political scientist William Howell told Prokop this was a "new frontier" for executive policymaking. Yale Law School's Bruce Ackerman says Obama used "a waiver provision for modest experiments and transformed it into a platform for the redesign of the statute." Obama's actions are clearly legal — but they are just as clearly a decision to creatively exploit the letter of the law to vastly expand the scope of executive power over the law.

Those who like these actions on their merits comfort themselves with the thought that these uses of executive power are pretty clearly allowed by the terms of the existing laws. This is true as far as it goes. But it's also the case that Obama (or some future president) could have his political opponents murdered on the streets of Washington and then issue pardons to the perpetrators. This would be considerably more legal than a Zelaya-style effort to use a plebiscite to circumvent congressional obstruction — just a lot more morally outrageous. In either case, however, the practical issue would be not so much what is legal, but what people, including the people with guns, would actually tolerate.

Raising the stakes

America's escalating game of constitutional hardball isn't caused by personal idiosyncratic failings of individual people. Obama has made his share of mistakes, but the fundamental causes of hardball politics are structural, not personal. Personality-minded journalists often argue that a warmer executive would do a better job of building bridges to congress. But as Duke University's Brendan Nyhan points out, "Bill Clinton's more successful outreach to his opponents didn't keep him from getting impeached. Likewise, George W. Bush was more gregarious than Obama, but it didn't make him any more popular among Democrats once the post-9/11 glow had worn off."

There's a reason for this, and it gets to the core of who really runs American politics.

In a democratic society, elected officials are most directly accountable to the people who support them. And the people who support them are different than the people who don't care enough about politics to pay much attention, or the people who support the other side. They are more ideological, more partisan, and they want to see the policies they support passed into law. A leader who abandons his core supporters because what they want him to do won't be popular with most voters is likely, in modern American politics, to be destroyed in the next primary election.

The amateur ideological activists who eroded the power of the party professionals in the 1970s are now running the show. While Gilded Age activists traded support for patronage jobs, modern-day activists demand policy results in exchange for support. Presidents need to do everything within their legal ability to deliver the results that their supporters expect, and their opponents in Congress need to do everything possible to stop them. At one point, Republican congressional leaders were highly amenable to passing an immigration reform bill and the Obama administration insisted it had no means of circumventing the legislative process. But under pressure from their respective bases, Republicans found it impossible to compromise and Obama decided he had better find a way to go around Congress.

It is true that the mass public is not nearly as ideological as members of Congress. But the mass public is not necessarily active in democratic politics, either. Emory's Alan Abramowitz finds that "the American public has become more consistent and polarized in its policy preferences over the past several decades." He also writes that "this increase in consistency and polarization has been concentrated among the most politically engaged citizens."

This rise in ideological activism has a number of genuinely positive impacts. It makes politics less corrupt. The least-polarized state legislatures in America are in places like Rhode Island and Louisiana, bastions of corruption rather than good government. It's not a coincidence that the Tea Party surge led to the end of earmarked appropriations. But it heightened executive-legislative conflict and leads to what Linz termed "the zero-sum character of presidential elections."

Looking back at Bush's election in 2000, one of the most remarkable things is how little social disorder there was. The American public wanted Al Gore to be president, but a combination of the Electoral College rules, poor ballot design in Palm Beach County, and an adverse Supreme Court ruling, put Bush in office. The general presumption among elites at the time was that Democrats should accept this with good manners, and Bush would respond to the weak mandate with moderate, consensus-oriented governance. This was not in the cards. Not because of Bush's personal qualities (if anything, the Bush family and its circle are standard-bearers for the cause of relative moderation in the GOP), but because the era of the "partisan presidency" demands that the president try to implement the party's agenda, regardless of circumstances. That's how we got drastic tax cuts in 2001.

If the Bush years shattered the illusion that there's no difference between the parties, the Obama years underscore how much control of the White House matters in an era of gridlock. The broadly worded Clean Air Act, whose relevant provisions passed in 1970, has allowed Obama to be one of the most consequential environmental regulators of all time — even though he hasn't been able to pass a major new environmental bill. He's deployed executive discretion over immigration enforcement on an unprecedented scale. And he's left a legacy that could be rapidly reversed. A future Republican administration could not only turn back these executive actions, but substantially erode the Affordable Care Act.

The lessons of the 2000 and 2008 elections make it unnerving to imagine a Bush-Gore style recount occurring in 2014's political atmosphere. The stakes of presidential elections are sky-high. And the constitutional system provides no means for a compromise solution. There can be only one president. And once he's in office he has little reason to show restraint in the ambitions of the legislative — or non-legislative — agenda he pursues. In the event of another disputed election, it would be natural for both sides to push for victory with every legal or extra-legal means at their disposal.

Indeed, we ought to consider possibilities more disastrous than a repeat of the 2000 vote. What if a disputed presidential election coincided with a Supreme Court vacancy? What if the simultaneous deaths of the president and vice president brought to power a House Speaker from the opposite party? What if neither party secured a majority of electoral votes and a presidential election wound up being decided by a vote of the lame duck House of Representatives? What if highly partisan state legislatures start using their constitutional authority to rig the presidential contest? A system of undisciplined or non-ideological political parties has many flaws, but it is at least robust to a variety of shocks. Our current party alignment makes for a much more brittle situation, in which one of any number of crises where democratic norms and constitutional procedures diverge could bring us to a state of emergency.

A flawed system

The idea that America's constitutional system might be fundamentally flawed cuts deeply against the grain of our political culture. But the reality is that despite its durability, it has rarely functioned well by the standards of a modern democracy. The party system of the Gilded Age operated through systematic corruption. The less polarized era that followed was built on the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans. The newer system of more ideological politics has solved those problems and seems in many ways more attractive. But over the past 25 years, it's set America on a course of paralysis and crisis — government shutdowns, impeachment, debt ceiling crises, and constitutional hardball. Voters, understandably, are increasingly dissatisfied with the results and confidence in American institutions has been generally low and falling. But rather than leading to change, the dissatisfaction has tended to yield wild electoral swings that exacerbate the sense of permanent crisis.

The best we can hope for is that when the crisis does come, Americans will put a better system in place
As dysfunctional as American government may seem today, we've actually been lucky. No other presidential system has gone as long as ours without a major breakdown of the constitutional order. But the factors underlying that stability — first non-ideological parties and then non-disciplined ones — are gone. And it's worth considering the possibility that with them, so too has gone the American exception to the rule of presidential breakdown. If we seem to be unsustainably lurching from crisis to crisis, it's because we are unsustainably lurching from crisis to crisis. The breakdown may not be next year or even in the next five years, but over the next 20 or 30 years, will we really be able to resolve every one of these high-stakes showdowns without making any major mistakes? Do you really trust Congress that much?

The best we can hope for is that when the crisis does come, Americans will have the wisdom to do for ourselves what we did in the past for Germany and Japan and put a better system in place.

Parihaka
02 Mar 15,, 19:15
39346

zraver
03 Mar 15,, 00:52
More likely this

Parihaka
03 Mar 15,, 04:41
I suspect that's what you have already

zraver
03 Mar 15,, 05:04
I suspect that's what you have already

Not yet for life and draped in purple....

Parihaka
03 Mar 15,, 06:01
Not yet for life and draped in purple....

An elected Emperor. Trust you guys to come up with something new....

Monash
03 Mar 15,, 08:46
Well instead of an emperor or a king/queen you could go with something like this:

39348


Anyone for a nice fundamentalist theocracy? :whome:

zraver
03 Mar 15,, 14:34
We have one who wants that job...

Mihais
03 Mar 15,, 15:16
An elected Emperor. Trust you guys to come up with something new....

The French already had them.

astralis
03 Mar 15,, 16:08
Dylan Matthews had a similar (but not the same) take:

This is how the American system of government will die - Vox (http://www.vox.com/2015/3/3/8120965/american-government-problems)


The United States' system of government is a nightmare. The Constitution requires levels of consensus between branches of government that are not realistic in a modern country with ideologically polarized parties. The result is near-total policy stasis and gridlock that in some cases, like the debt ceiling crisis of 2011, risks stopping measures from taking effect that are necessary to prevent total calamity. As the saying goes, things that can't last forever don't, and it's reasonable to predict, as Matthew Yglesias does, that America's untenable system of government will fall apart, probably in our lifetimes.

But Yglesias is vague as to how that will happen. While he's careful to say that past democratic collapses — such as the Honduran constitutional crisis of 2009 — aren't necessarily models for what will happen here, he does seem to presume some kind of crisis. At some point, an impasse between the executive and legislature will create a state of exception, a point at which disaster cannot be averted through normal legal channels.

But it's hard for me to imagine a crisis whose resolution would involve an all-out coup or dissolution of democratic institutions. What's much likelier is a continuation of the executive's gradual consolidation of power until the presidency is something like an elective dictatorship. It won't happen in a big bang, and no individual step in the process will feel like a massive leap into tyranny. But compared to today, the president's powers will be almost unrecognizable.

astralis
03 Mar 15,, 16:18
it actually seems to be more of an evolution to an elected high-king model. or, in modern terms, an elected "war President" model, to use an old Bushism. American power is too diffuse for an evolution to an autocracy, so I don't think we're looking at President Augustus anytime soon. old Congressional power will flow to many axis, including local, judiciary, and yes, the executive.

moreover centralization of power requires considerable amounts of public buy-in. a reason why Augustus was so popular was because the oligarchical Roman "republic" created immense amounts of social chaos and private armies, especially as old norms collapsed. people were -desperate- to end the chaos. note the death of Caesar not only didn't return the Republic to its old norms, but exacerbated its issues.

this type of buy-in is not prevalent in America today; in fact, the trend seems to be towards individualization and devolution of power. this seems to be a trend as a whole in the modern West.

by the way, this is not an isolated trend. as the Matthews article pointed out, FDR during the Depression/WWII wielded considerably more Presidential power than any other President in living memory. to a lesser extent, this applied to Lincoln in the Civil War. even outside periods of war, the way that we envision the Presidency today is significantly different from what the Presidency was like in the 1920s, let alone the 1870s or earlier.

gunnut
03 Mar 15,, 20:55
Well instead of an emperor or a king/queen you could go with something like this:

39348


Anyone for a nice fundamentalist theocracy? :whome:

I am definitely for sharia in San Francisco.

Parihaka
03 Mar 15,, 21:12
Something like this then
39352

astralis
03 Mar 15,, 22:34
nah, simply because there is no power devolution in Russia to speak of, unless you're talking about Mafiya. there IS no system of checks and balances.

basically even if all the worst-case scenarios came to pass, resulting in a rump legislative branch (and I don't think it will), it'd be something like an elective version of Napoleon III-- a powerful executive with multiple other power centers to balance against (local, judicial-- which in turn would have absorbed some of the duties/responsibilities abrogated by the national legislative).

zraver
04 Mar 15,, 01:19
Not so sure, Obama has so fatally weakened the legislative and the executive has been stacking the federal appeals court in DC for so long that representative anything seems to be gone. Nor do I feel power is devolving to the people, regulations are increasing not decreasing. Add in the gilded age aspects of our society and we could be headed for a corporate feudalism.

astralis
04 Mar 15,, 02:55
z,


Not so sure, Obama has so fatally weakened the legislative and the executive has been stacking the federal appeals court in DC for so long that representative anything seems to be gone.

lol, really, compared to FDR or Nixon? dude, small potatoes.


Nor do I feel power is devolving to the people

technology. a rwandan farmer with a smart phone and access to the Internet has better real-time information than a NYC executive in the 1980s.


regulations are increasing not decreasing.

if this were true, we wouldn't see record profits on wall street nor that corporate feudalism you speak of.

it's the opposite, actually.

note the reason why the articles are so pessimistic is because it's a systemic issue and not a personality issue. say Obama stepped down tomorrow and in his place came your favorite candidate. the new President and the legislature would -still- work under the same systemic issues that plague government today, such as gerrymandering, partisan deadlock, pandering to the extremes for the money and soundbites, etc. this has been a generational issue, which has worsened over the last two decades-- particularly because any attempt to reform the system will engender ferocious opposition from entrenched interests and incumbent politicians from both sides.

zraver
04 Mar 15,, 03:37
z,



lol, really, compared to FDR or Nixon? dude, small potatoes.

Dissagree, the recent showdown over DHS shows that even when acting with complete constitutional authority to counter a blatantly unconstitutional act, Congress doesn't even control the power of the purse anymore thanks to grid lock and 4th estate that sold itself to the executive.




technology. a rwandan farmer with a smart phone and access to the Internet has better real-time information than a NYC executive in the 1980s.

The information the NYC exec got then and gets now is closer to reality than what you are likely to get off of the interwebz. Have you seen what both sides claim are news sites?


if this were true, we wouldn't see record profits on wall street nor that corporate feudalism you speak of.

Are there more federal regulations, laws, and enforceable dicta now than there were a year ago, ten years ago... The answer is more.


it's the opposite, actually.

Uh huh... that is why I know have to buy products for a corporation even if i don't want to in order to protect that corporations bottom line. Why things that used to be legal are now restricted or prohibited. Government feels it must pass laws or its not doing anything. So government always increases its own power over time.


note the reason why the articles are so pessimistic is because it's a systemic issue and not a personality issue. say Obama stepped down tomorrow and in his place came your favorite candidate. the new President and the legislature would -still- work under the same systemic issues that plague government today, such as gerrymandering, partisan deadlock, pandering to the extremes for the money and soundbites, etc. this has been a generational issue, which has worsened over the last two decades-- particularly because any attempt to reform the system will engender ferocious opposition from entrenched interests and incumbent politicians from both sides.

You are right about Obama stepping down, the rest of your points were not necessarily the case when he was elected (though it was trending that way). He came to power promising a return to bipartisan ship and bolted out of the gate with the most partisan policies of all time covered by a party that has abandoned all pretense of duty and a media so lick spittle that even when he jails them, they cover for him.

Double Edge
04 Mar 15,, 04:36
note the reason why the articles are so pessimistic is because it's a systemic issue and not a personality issue. say Obama stepped down tomorrow and in his place came your favorite candidate. the new President and the legislature would -still- work under the same systemic issues that plague government today, such as gerrymandering, partisan deadlock, pandering to the extremes for the money and soundbites, etc. this has been a generational issue, which has worsened over the last two decades-- particularly because any attempt to reform the system will engender ferocious opposition from entrenched interests and incumbent politicians from both sides.
The one thing i can't get from your article is on a scale of 1 to 10 (doom )how bad is it right now ?

how bad were the previous eras where you had similar issues.


The newer system of more ideological politics has solved those problems and seems in many ways more attractive. But over the past 25 years, it's set America on a course of paralysis and crisis — government shutdowns, impeachment, debt ceiling crises, and constitutional hardball. Voters, understandably, are increasingly dissatisfied with the results and confidence in American institutions has been generally low and falling. But rather than leading to change, the dissatisfaction has tended to yield wild electoral swings that exacerbate the sense of permanent crisis.
How many points in the wrong direction since the last 25 years ?

zraver
04 Mar 15,, 05:30
The one thing i can't get from your article is on a scale of 1 to 10 (doom )how bad is it right now ?

It depends on what metric. Wealth imbalance is about where it was when widespread social unrest has previously broken out. So far debt has fueled the illusion of better living standards but that pool is now shifting to other forms of debt that don't have pots of real or fools gold at the end of the tunnel. Poverty is up over historic norms since the Great Society was started, political deadlock is at its all time worst. Jobs and incomes are weak, not socially unstable bad, just weak but this weakness makes other things look worse. Fear of the government is way up-often justified; the IRS is targeting political opponents, cops shoot people without consequence, domestic spying, at least one major metro police force with its own black site prison, increasing regulations and costs, votes and will of the people ignored, a for real threat to the 2A, more foreign wars... it just keeps piling up. The only branch of government still enjoying the publics' trust are NASA Engineers, fire fighters and park rangers.


how bad were the previous eras where you had similar issues.

Massive social unrest and violence including a number of micro-rebellions with a good amount of killing and maiming. We managed serious reform previously, even if just barely in some cases. The danger is this time we wont.



How many points in the wrong direction since the last 25 years ?

Its not points but a track over time. If due north is the direction we should be headed (security, jobs and increasing liberty, wealth and health for all citizens) we are now headed about due east.We may never go the opposite of North, but are not on the right track either. Government has spent the previous 25 years picking winners and losers in commerce and the social wars and it has knocked us a kilter.

Double Edge
04 Mar 15,, 12:59
Massive social unrest and violence including a number of micro-rebellions with a good amount of killing and maiming. We managed serious reform previously, even if just barely in some cases. The danger is this time we wont.
Right, its always about 'this time'. There have been many 'this times' in the last century and a half and every time you managed it. The record speaks for itself :)

Ideology might lead to more polarisation it leads to never ending religious fights over any thing and every thing but that can continue only so long. When real business has to be done in the real world, the pragmatic compromises win out. Pragmatism is an american idea.

So I don't know why the author links increasing polarisation to the dooming of american democracy. As if you have two parties with such irreconcilable differences that the only way to break the deadlock can be anything up to another civil war (!)


Its not points but a track over time. If due north is the direction we should be headed (security, jobs and increasing liberty, wealth and health for all citizens) we are now headed about due east.We may never go the opposite of North, but are not on the right track either. Government has spent the previous 25 years picking winners and losers in commerce and the social wars and it has knocked us a kilter.
Oil shales are here to stay whether the Arabs like it or not. oil shale is what caused the massive price in oil to drop.

All of this general unease is due to a lack of funding. Earlier there was a curious phenomenon, capital was easy, it was cheap so salaries rose to unsustainable levels. But inflation did not so it was ok. everything depends on the cost of doing work and if you can find a way to bring it down as you have then you will ride this one out eventually. It takes half as much oil today to generate $1000 worth of value as it did back in 2000.

There is talk of the US being self sufficient as far as oil goes. When that will happen is debatable. When it does will the US (Canada & Mexico) dislocate themselves from the global price. There will be one price only in the US generally lower and one for the rest of the world. All of this is new, we took for granted that oil prices would continue to remain high or even increase into the future. Peak oil they called it. The peak oilers were so obsessed with telling you when oil was going to run out they neglected to understand how supply could be increased.

Talk about imminent american collapse always does the rounds. I don't see american economic or military power going anywhere until the middle of the century. What is an open question is whether american WILL to police the world will remain or not and the attendant consequences. That will be a unique situation as there has always been some power around to order things. We were used to the stable but bipolar cold war with two superpowers, then it became one and now it might be none. A US that isn't interested is as good as no superpower.

Because there are no takers for that job. China isn't interested. they may make big noises but thats about it. It took a world war to put the US in that position, otherwise the US would not do it either.


The French already had them.
France is a country that can arguably be said to be in an even worse situation. Same general unease since the last twenty years yet people could still remember a time when things were much better.

All the talk when Sarkozy entered office about how he could solve France's problem if only he adopted american attitudes. This caused some existential crisis over there over what is and isn't french and they voted him out.

GVChamp
04 Mar 15,, 18:32
I sort of see the point on this. But my overarching point is that every political and social system is doomed to die unless it reforms. Those who make peaceful change impossible...we're talking about the Roman Empire here, but those Romans were more or less screwed when the Gracchi Brothers were killed, long before they even became an empire.
*shrug*
The specifics about parliament vs. presidential seem almost inconsequential, though. Hell, parliamentary systems have PLENTY of problems with stability. Just take a look at Canada's multiple elections, or Belgium's governmental impasse.
When we're talking about fundamental issues, we're not really talking about Presidential vs. Parliamentary systems...that actually seems to be a Big-Government Lover idea, who imagines that we could solve everything if only we could get rid of all this red-tape and just let DC fix everything.
Does sound a little like Vox :P

FJV
04 Mar 15,, 20:36
Meh, don't know if America is being worse off now than in the 1950's during the McCarthy trials with regards to the constitution.

If I'm not mistaken that was also the era of the illegal CIA experiments with LSD

Don't be surprised if the US manages to stick around for quite a while.

As for dictatorships: Maybe

http://www.desktopexchange.net/plog-content/images/movie-pictures/star-wars-wallpapers/darth-vader-palpatine.jpg

Stitch
04 Mar 15,, 21:03
Talk about imminent american collapse always does the rounds. I don't see american economic or military power going anywhere until the middle of the century. What is an open question is whether american WILL to police the world will remain or not and the attendant consequences. That will be a unique situation as there has always been some power around to order things. We were used to the stable but bipolar cold war with two superpowers, then it became one and now it might be none. A US that isn't interested is as good as no superpower.

Totally agree with you here; however, I can see the US doing one of it's usual volte-face things and heading towards isolationism again, just like back in the '20's and '30's after the Great War. I think the American public is (finally) getting tired of being the world's policeman, and wasting blood and treasure trying to cure every evil and right every wrong. Sometimes I think the old realpolitik politicians and political philosophers, like Henry Kissinger, had it right all along; we should deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

There is something to be said for altruism and idealism, and it's great to aspire for a better world; but there's only so much one country can do, even one as big and as powerful as the US, and we need to recognize that fact, and be a bit more realistic about what we can and cannot accomplish on our own. Maybe it's time to take a step back and look after our own needs for a while, rather than those of the rest of the world.

omon
04 Mar 15,, 22:53
usa is constitutional democracy ???? i had no idea.
i was pretty sure on paper it was constitutional republic, but in reality it is oligarchy. (http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746)

GVChamp
05 Mar 15,, 15:46
Stitch,
Withdrawing from the world won't solve our problems. That's a recipe for letting easily solvable problems fester and become significantly worse for our children. America is at the noon-tide of her power. We have strong allies, a relatively stable world, an orderly house at home, and no peer competitors.
If anything, now is the time to invest in strong multilateral institutions and partnerships that will ensure our security moving in the future, when America really is relatively weaker.
This doesn't require huge expenses or a huge footprint. We don't need to go into every country and build the whole thing from the ground-up, see: Iraq. We get our best bang for the buck using our technology and financial/logistical resources to help out reliable local partners.
And a lot of the big ticket items in foreign affairs get overlooked. Mexico has really taken off lately, but no one mentions that. Subsaharan Africa is a lot more stable and democratic than it has ever been, and the easy gains there are limiting malaria, and improving agriculture through fertilizer use and large-scale irrigation projects.
As for improving things at home, dumping more money on our problems isn't really a solution. More money on education doesn't improve results. Giving politicans more money won't result in repairing our sewer systems or locks, because that doesn't buy votes: they'll just build a new, stupid bridge, and increase our infrastructure maintenance bill even more. Our problems are a lot deeper than merely "we don't have enough money." We're the richest nation on Earth, the fact that we constanly have money problems is because we suck with money.

Double Edge
05 Mar 15,, 17:22
If anything, now is the time to invest in strong multilateral institutions and partnerships that will ensure our security moving in the future, when America really is relatively weaker.
This doesn't require huge expenses or a huge footprint. We don't need to go into every country and build the whole thing from the ground-up, see: Iraq. We get our best bang for the buck using our technology and financial/logistical resources to help out reliable local partners.
yeah, this appears to be the plan. With Libya being the first example.

GVChamp
05 Mar 15,, 17:39
yeah, this appears to be the plan. With Libya being the first example.

Sarcasm?

Parihaka
05 Mar 15,, 19:47
one would think so, but I couldn't possibly comment.:biggrin:

SteveDaPirate
05 Mar 15,, 23:39
So much pessimism in this thread.

I am actually quite optimistic about the future. While the unipolar moment is passing and the rest of the world is catching up to the West, America is doing just fine on the whole. If the politicians in Washington are gridlocked over inane issues it is mostly because the US doesn't truly have any "big" problems at the moment.

America has a strong, diverse economy that is incredibly self sufficient, abundant resources, a secure geographic position, and healthy demographics. No other country is in any position to pose a serious threat now or in the near future. The other great advantage the US has is its well established alliances. Even a pact between Moscow and Beijing, would be unable to compete as a peer against the US and its allies.

To me, the events of 9/11 showed that when presented with a credible threat, the US can certainly take political action. The swift passage of sweeping reforms, the largest government reorganization since the creation of the DOD, and the massive upwelling of public support were all demonstrations of the ability the US government to get its shit together when something important occurs.

The current gridlock in congress and the rampant political infighting are all symptomatic of the fact that politicians in Washington have nothing "truly" pressing to do. Concerns with ISIS, Ukraine, Iran, Healthcare, and Immigration are all fun to argue about, but their eventual outcomes whatever they may be will have very little bearing on the trajectory of the US.

The strength of the US government isn't in the Executive, Legislature, or Judiciary, it is in the strong governmental institutions that do the real work. US politicians just aren't powerful enough to overcome the massive inertia America's many advantages give it, try though they might. :)

Double Edge
06 Mar 15,, 02:12
Sarcasm?
Haha

Americans and multilateral institutions !!!!

what was i thinking :)

dalem
06 Mar 15,, 06:28
Dear lord, Zakaria's too silly now, so you stoop to Yglesias????

Amusing.

-dale

GVChamp
06 Mar 15,, 15:52
Just an interesting article on the increasing living standards of the last century:
It's Complicated. But Hopeful. | Cato Unbound (http://www.cato-unbound.org/2015/03/04/megan-mcardle/its-complicated-hopeful)