Sowing the wind

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Photo: NBC News - AP; EPA
Photo: NBC News - AP; EPA

The United States has a new President and possibly the most divisive one since Abraham Lincoln at the outbreak of the Civil War.

I have written in the past wondering how we got here, but now here we are. The disgust with the way things are done in Washington reached such a crescendo that we now have elected a President that seems to speak streams of consciousness and brings to mind the quote of Napoleon I in 1814 when he told France’s senate “I am the state”. Whether you are a supporter of Mr. Trump or his worst detractor is not important. What I see and what should concern others is that this state of the nation is one of a progressively obvious imperial presidency and his court.

I watched with alarm the silence that greeted Mr. Obama’s liberal use of executive orders in matters of great import. I wondered why congress and members of his own party, as well as the main stream press, were largely silent in regard to those actions that circumvented the process of passing and enacting laws. I said to others at the time, “be careful because there will come a time that the precedent set by these actions will be used by the opposition and maybe even someone that has a lack of judgment or ability to see the long term consequences of these orders”.

Now those chickens have come home to roost in the person of Mr. Trump who is seemingly signing or threatening to sign innumerable executive orders that at once undo legislation and precedent, while simultaneously forging new ground that suits his agenda. It is too late now to complain that the presidency has become one of imperial proportions and that the President is acting out of control.

I read that the ACLU and others were apoplectic at Mr. Trump’s actions in not enforcing laws with which he was in disagreement (as well they and all of us should be). But I remember Mr. Obama stating that he would not enforce the marriage act as he disagreed with its treatment of gays, nor enforce the law of the land regarding immigration. Silence greeted that stand. Now we have Presidents who seem to be able to pick and choose what laws they will enforce and what laws they will ignore even though congress passes these into the law of the land. Again echoes of “I am the state”.

Mr. Trump is fairly accused of arrogance in celebrating his election and using it to push his agenda and is criticized for it. But this arrogance reminds one of a meeting President Obama had with congressional leaders about his stimulus package in which he was challenged by a republican senator, and instead of addressing the challenge, merely responded “I won” or on another occasion when he told the opposition “elections have consequences” and yet again “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election.” Not exactly gracious, but it does set a precedent for similar behavior from his successors.

The quote he may regret most may be his quote in 2014 about his use of executive orders “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need,” the President said. “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” That pen in the form of Twitter is being used daily by his successor. The list of these precedents could and will go on and are not limited to Mr. Obama, and unless the behavior of the President and others is changed and becomes more civilized, they may well continue to evolve into something even more unthinkable.

Lest one thinks that this is only a problem unique to the Presidential office, let’s take a quick look at the “court officials” that share the problem. While in the majority and to get judge appointments through without a threatened filibuster the Democrats passed a rule (known as the nuclear option or the Reid rule) that allowed a simple majority to suspend normal Senate rules. Now that the republicans are in the majority with a President that has multiple judgeships and at least one Supreme Court vacancy to fill, the now minority party wants to disavow and forbid the use of the rule they implemented. Does anyone else see a problem with this?

And what about the fact that our national legislators’ sworn responsibility is to represent our best interests and act in the best interests of our country? Instead, we observe that our elected officials in each body and each party seem to prioritize their run for the next election the moment they are sworn in. They routinely act in ways that insulate themselves from those that elect them and those whom they are supposed to represent.

How can any elected body be favorably viewed when they pass laws that greatly restrict or effect the people they represent in financial and other ways, but arrogantly exempt themselves from all of those very laws and their adverse effects? I know that like Pogo, who said back in the 1970s that “we have met the enemy and he is us”. We bear too much of the blame and have little to complain about when we send back 90% of these supposedly “public servants” each election. I am reminded of the cartoon character Pogo, who said in the 1970s “we have met the enemy and it is us.”

The end result today is a nation that has become so greatly and vehemently divided that any middle ground or compromise is now almost beyond imagination. I despair of any chance of reconciliation and civil discourse over almost any issue. But we now are reaping the harvest of what we have either tacitly or overtly contributed to and supported for the past twenty years. One wonders what the next twenty years have in store.

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