Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Descent Into Chaos Part 2: The Federal Level

If you’ve been paying attention, you’re already aware of some unpleasant sequelae to the “wave” elections of November 2014:

  • The reinstallation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House;
  • The announcement that there will be no serious attempt by the Republican-majority Congress to thwart Obama’s anti-immigration-law-enforcement ukase or ObamaCare;
  • Obama’s pre-emptive announcement of his intention to veto any legislation he dislikes that emerges from that Congress, regardless of its substance or its popularity.

At this time, even the support of Congressional Democrats for such items as the Keystone XL pipeline and the repeal of the most destructive portions of the Affordable Care Act appears to be insufficient to get those things to happen. That could change, of course, but it would take a significant shift in the attitudes and loyalties of Congressional Democrats: away from the protection of Obama and toward the performance of their duties, to say nothing of the American populace. Moreover, there would remain a chance that Obama would direct the executive agencies responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws to ignore Congressional emissions he dislikes, including ones passed by veto-proof majorities. That would require Obama’s impeachment and trial, which, given their previous support for him and his policy preferences, would test Congressional Democrats far more severely than the impeachment and trial of Bill Clinton.

The most pleasant thing one could say about Washington at this time is that at least we don’t have federal politicos exchanging gunfire inside the Capitol Building.


The federal system is designed to check the powers of each of the branches of government against the willingness of the other two to approve and cooperate. From that perspective, parts of it are working according to the design...but a significant part of it – i.e., the executive’s responsibility to “take care that the laws shall be faithfully executed” – is not. Worse, that default of duty hasn’t enraged Congress sufficiently to call Obama to account for it. Considering that the Reconstruction Era Congress tried (and nearly convicted) Andrew Johnson for an offense that, by comparison, was a mere peccadillo, it should leave us with no great opinion of “our representatives” on Capitol Hill.

It becomes ever clearer that American Constitutional order is badly endangered: by the would-be dictator in the White House, by the low quality of the Representatives and Senators whose duty it is to rein him in, and by the thorough politicization of the federal courts, including the Supreme Court.

One of the less-discussed things about “the rules of the game” is that the rules are the game. For Black to move his knight as if it were a bishop, smile into White’s face and say, “I have to, or I’ll lose,” is equivalent to overturning the board and scattering the pieces. This is just as true of Constitutional government as it is of chess.

I’ve written before that the enforcement agency for the Constitution’s constraints on government power and activity is the people in arms. Indeed, there could hardly be any other:

Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they have been resisted with either words or blows, or with both. – Frederick Douglass

We dislike to think of the remedy of blows. It would entail violence; bloodshed; a time of even greater disorder than we endure today, regardless of the outcome. So we keep hoping that the system will right itself, if helped along by an election or two. And we continue to ratify that broken system, by implication, with our votes.

Is it not yet clear that we’ve been had? Played for fools? Soothed into believing that all can be made right by voting for the candidate with the right totem animal? Only to be told afterward that “there’s only so much we can do without the Senate / the White House / a veto-proof majority / an end to the war / and end to violence in the Middle East / a command from God” -- ?

But absent a popular uprising, the federal descent into chaos – a “system” large sectors of which ignore the rules under which they’re supposed to operate -- will continue, for a simple reason: The persons most responsible for it are getting what they want, and getting away with it.

Charles Krauthammer noted on yesterday’s edition of Special Report that there’s no reason to think that, for the final two years of his legitimate tenure in the Oval Office, Obama will do anything but exactly what he pleases. He need never face the voters again. He’s shown a complete indifference to popular opinion, to the Constitutional constraints on his authority, and to the ultimate consequences for his co-partisans in Congress. Nor has he ever been anything but what his upbringing and his education made him: a self-absorbed, power-obsessed social-fascist and a despiser of better, more accomplished men than he.

No ostrich tactic can blind us to the facts about Obama today. We have too much of his history to steer by. But what of Congress? Is there even a remote possibility that Obama could outrage it sufficiently to rouse it to its duties?

That’s unclear. Imagine the worst case: Obama decrees the indefinite suspension of all elections to federal offices, orders the dissolution of Congress and the Supreme Court, and declares that henceforth his word shall be the law of these United States. He mobilizes the Army, including the National Guard, and directs it to implement those decrees regardless of any and all resistance. What would follow?

Would the Army do as Obama directs?
Should a portion of the Army refuse such orders, would the remainder fire upon it?
More to the point, would Congress fulfill its Constitutional duties to remove him after such outrageous decrees?
Ultimately to the point, given his usurpations of power up to now and the flaccidity of Congress before him, would you give odds against Obama seriously considering such a move?

Stay tuned.


prairie gopher said...

the congress has shown by their actions or lack thereof that they agree with oblama's actions. the only two forces that can restore dlemocracy to the USA are the Armed Forces or the people. Take your pick and buy stocks in popcorn companies!

daniel_day said...

Your question about dissolution of Congress could be rephrased to this: Would Congress sit still while 0 dissolves it, removing the power-seekers from their seats, the klieg lights, the hordes of supplicants seeking favors, and the sensual pleasures of Washington D.C.? Actually, I doubt it. The steps preceding (temporary, of course) suspension of federal elections, are more plausible.
I wouldn't put it past 0 to have established shadow squads and larger groups within the Army who are prepared to do his bidding, but I assume that getting the Army and NG to implement his orders would also be very problematic. Some generals would order subordinates to submit, or revise, reports of their units' readiness, which would show them to be currently incapable of getting very far past base gates. Unified action would be essential in the face of a shocked and increasingly pissed-off populace, and I'm skeptical that unity would be achieved.
Things are going to go to shit, one way or another, but I don't believe they'll go that way. My greatest fear is that they'll go so slowly the federal and local elites will be able to continue on.

Anonymous said...

Not only do we "continue to ratify that broken system" with our votes, we reify it as well.