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Friday, June 30, 2017

Our government is facing an existential threat from within.

The history of American politics features endless political conflicts, largely symbolized by debating the role that our government should play as embodied in the Preamble to the Constitution: the establishment of justice; the insurance of domestic tranquility; the provision for the common defense; the promotion of the common welfare; and the securing of Liberty. I'd argue (elsewhere) both that you can attach any of the political debates between partisans of any age in our country's history to one or more of those topics and that you can see a pendulum-like action to the government being more or less progressive in how it addresses those issues. That's normal and healthy for a republic riven by faction.

But what we are seeing today steps out of that traditional arena and takes a nihilistic turn for the worse.

With the election of Donald Trump as a nominal member of the Republican Party, the nation has placed its future in the hands of those who wish to destroy the government as it presently exists. On one side of the Executive stands Steven K. Bannon, who has publicly declared that the destruction of the state apparatus is his ultimate goal. Ideological warfare, not governance is his goal while in power. On the other side of the Executive rests Reince Priebus and Mike Pence, both men who have dedicated their political careers to adhering to Grover Norquist's stated desire to shrink government to the size that he can "drown it in a bathtub." Trump himself has demonstrated throughout his lifetime of self-service that he is first and foremost dedicated to the advancement of his own personal interests, and the early indications are that he will cheerfully do the bidding of those on either side of him. As a result, there is a suicidal, nihilistic tendency in the Executive Branch of the government to an extent that has never been seen in American history. It is not too much of a stretch to imagine Trump using an executive order to shut down the Executive Branch and not realizing what he has done until he comes downstairs in the morning to find that everyone is gone.

With the handing of power to Republican Party members in Congress, there is a frenzy of enacting the Party's ideological agenda, which is a normal part of the pendulum swinging with a shift in party power. However, this activity is coming at the expense of the Legislative Branch's responsibilities to serve as a check on the Executive, coupled with an outright repudiation of the standards of legislation that had endured for decades. As just one example, witness the way that health care legislation is being handled. Regardless of what one thinks of the responsibility or irresponsibility of the federal government providing health care (or not), the fact that this legislation, which impacts virtually every living American citizen and nearly a third of the total economy, was crafted by a few in secret, in denial of both proper procedure and tradition, and is being rammed down the throats of members of Congress without a timeline to allow for debate, input and change, again, as is both traditional and procedural. It is clear that Congress is not interested in self-preservation as a functional body of government. Collegiality is gone except in times of extraordinary stress, collaboration and compromise no longer exists between the members of either House or Senate party factions, and petty revenge for slights real and imagined is the order of the day. Party is more important than country. The Legislative Branch is collapsing upon itself, sinking to the level of the most base members' inclinations, which will only lead to its irrelevance or self immolation.

The Judicial Branch is populated by a majority of jurists who have articulated similar points of view to either Bannon or Norquist at various stages of their careers. It remains to be seen if the Supreme Court is dedicated to the rule of law derived from its own institutional settled rulings and traditions, or if it too is ready to overturn the government apple cart to fanatically pursue the "shrinking" of government through anachronistic interpretations of the Constitution. But there aren't a lot of reasons to hope that they, too, won't join in the feeding frenzy of non-creative destruction that grips the other two branches of government when presented with the opportunity.

Shrinking government is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. Walking back legislation, overturning settled law, charting a new course for the nation are all to be expected when there is a transition of ideology in our government; that is part and parcel of being a democratic republic.

But to embark on that process in secret, behind closed doors, to deny the people the right to see, hear and discuss these issues is antithetical to the very bedrock of what makes us a successful and lasting Republic. Willfully letting ambassador's posts lie vacant, willfully causing under-secretarial positions across the Executive Branch to stand empty while naifs serve as Secretaries in the Cabinet, willfully repudiating the free press with inflammatory rhetoric, willfully lying about factual events and displaying no shame when caught, these are all direct challenges to that which preserves, protects and extends our democracy.

Representatives are answerable to the people, they must be for the people, and they must be of the people, or our government shall, indeed, perish from the earth.