Democracy in Peril

Author: Gary Hart

Across several weeks our colleague Michael has raised serious questions about the future of democracy in America and elsewhere.  The questions he has raised and arguments he has made deserve equally serious consideration.

Increasingly the media are focusing on the rise of disinformation in campaigns, the challenge to factual narratives by false ones, the erosion of truth itself, and the use of social media to undermine and replace traditional reporting by “fake” media.

All this may or may not be “populist”, but it is most certainly authoritarian, the acquisition and concentration of power in the hands of the few by undermining the world of facts and truth.

There are many examples of this process throughout history, but none better than Germany and Italy in the 1930s.  Uncouple political narrative from truth and the train of authoritarianism is well down the track.

This process is enabled when there is widespread distrust of government, encouraged […] Continue Reading…

Authoritarianism by Stealth

Author: Gary Hart

If you intend to be an authoritarian president, like others you so admire, then it is necessary to demean and diminish the professional career civil service that stands in your way by administering the laws of the nation.

A president at war with his own government, at least the executive branch which he has taken a Constitutional oath to administer according to the laws that govern our nation, deserves much more consideration than brushing aside his occasional references to the “deep state” to which he attaches full blame for his failures.

The “deep state”, as yet to be defined as anything other than a permanent, Democratic presence out to thwart him, springs from the Trumpian guru Stephen Bannon who early laid down the mission to dismantle, if not totally destroy, the “administrative state.”

That is a clearer objective to deal with.

The administrative state is the product of two domestic revolutions: first, the […] Continue Reading…

An Appeal to Our Better Angels

Author: Gary Hart

Many of us of a certain age and generation deplore the nation’s recent lurch into incivility and recollect an earlier time when discourse, routine as well as political, was carried out without resort to bickering, insult, and sarcasm.

Naturally, the impeachment proceedings and the press quarrels accompanying them brought this to mind.

But even before that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described an entire swath of Americans as “deplorables”, separating them from the rest of presumably polite society.  As the child of meagerly educated parents, Eisenhower Republicans who would not have voted for Mr. Trump, I winced at that word.  Did she mean people like my parents?  Who, exactly, was she talking about?

If that one word did not cost her the election, it came very close.

What did she gain by using that word…except, perhaps, to demonstrate her and her friends’ and supporters’ superiority to those who couldn’t find the Yale Law […] Continue Reading…

The Regular Order

Author: Gary Hart

In former days, on the rare occasions where protocols of the U.S. Senate were breached in the heat of the moment, for example if Senators engaged in debate without seeking recognition of the chair as rules require, order would be restored by one or more Senators who would address the chair, the presiding president of the Senate at the time, with a command for “regular order.”

Given the chaos now endemic to the current executive branch, remaining statesmen and women should now be heard demanding the “regular order, Mr. President.”

The difficulty is that the current President is not familiar with any regular order in governing.  And this is central to our current historic dilemma.

In our long history America has never before had a president so unfamiliar with the Constitution, the rule of law, checks and balances of the branches of government, the limits on presidential power, the necessary role of […] Continue Reading…

America on the Verge

Author: Gary Hart

Sometime in the past decade or less the American political universe experienced a significant earthquake.  And I missed it.

Our correspondent Michael rightly attributes this, at least in part, to substantial changes in the media, and he is clearly right.  The decline of the print press, the explosion of social media, the rise of partisan electronic media, and much else.  Everyone is now a journalist, both a photographer and commentator.

In elections and governance, on the good side is the rise of small dollar fund raising on the Internet.  Sadly, this is outweighed by wholesale gerrymandering into red and blue Americas, blatant partisanship of the judiciary, demonization of the opposition, and in the Trump era blatant disregard of facts, meaning, and truth itself.

This latter pollution of language is the most disturbing epicenter of the earthquake.  It marks the 21st century’s refinement of last century’s totalitarianism of the right and left.  He […] Continue Reading…

As we now head toward year end holidays, there is a palpable sense of something between gloom and deep uneasiness.  This is particularly true within political circles broadly defined…those who follow the news (now all “breaking”) and pay close attention to government in all its dimensions.

This unease masks a deeper fear that our governing institutions are in trouble and may yield an as yet undefined tragedy.  Leading columnists confess to worrying about our Constitutional system cracking under stress.

There are among us those who can see farther over the horizon (on one or two occasions I have believed myself to be one of them) who hold open the possibility that events might produce circumstances dire enough to threaten our reliance on laws, institutions, civil society, and human nature itself.

There are serious individuals who wonder whether a chief executive impeached and convicted might refuse to leave office.  There are back corridor […] Continue Reading…

Do the American people want a bold overhaul of our economy while it seems to be doing reasonably well?  If so, is there a Franklin Roosevelt among the many Democratic contenders who has the confidence of the voters to carry it out?

Those and related questions are raised by the so-called “progressive” wing of the Party, especially Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and the answers from them are “yes” and “me”.

Most of the other candidates are either in the “moderate” wing of the Party, offering policy-by-policy solutions to economic and social problems such as unemployment, homelessness, stagnant wages, fragmented health care, and a range of domestic social issues.

There does seem to be unanimity on the climate crisis and need for dramatic action before a tipping point is past, a more humane immigration policy, the need to protect public lands and resources, and mainstream policies on much else.

But on tax increases […] Continue Reading…

Corrosive Careerism

Author: Gary Hart

Even a cursory study of early American history reveals at least two widespread convictions among the Founders.  One was the dread of “factions”, what today are known as political parties.  The other was that service in public office should not become a profession.

Of course, a third conviction was the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government.

It was not long before “factions”, i.e., political parties, emerged taking shape as Federalists and Republicans, with the division largely over the degree of power to be given to the national government.

It is now pretty well conceded that President Jefferson cut across his own convictions about national and concentrated powers to make the Louisiana Purchase.

Centuries later, we are now experiencing what happens when a president exercises arbitrary power backed by an improbable “base” made up of a faction of his Republican Party.  Members of Congress […] Continue Reading…

The Real Deep State

Author: Gary Hart

The only reason a President should hate his own government is when it won’t do what he wants it to.  What he wants it to do is to disregard the law, as he does.  So, when he orders something to be done that is illegal and the Executive branch, which he is supposed to administer, refuses to do an act contrary to the law, he and those who work with him and unquestioningly follow him accuse a mythical “deep state”.

Of course, there is no separate hidden state.  There is an administrative branch of government largely led by career civil servants.  They are there by their own choice and appointment to responsible positions by virtue of their experience and talent.

If the career civil service refuses to break the law, they do so because they are oath bound to do so, even if ordered to break the law by the President.

Donald […] Continue Reading…

What Is Going On?

Author: Gary Hart

From the founding of the United States in 1787 until the first impeachment of a President occurred, that of Andrew Johnson, 81 years transpired.  Thereafter, proceedings were brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.  Then William Clinton in 1998.  Now proceedings against Donald Trump are just underway.

Between Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon 106 years transpired.  In the past 45 years, there have been three impeachment proceedings.

What is going on here?

There are several possibilities.  Presidents are violating the Constitution more often.  Parties are using the impeachment option to overturn elections.  We are not electing the most upright Presidents.  Presidents are cutting legal, if not moral, corners more often.  The press and media are looking for sensationalism more.

Or, corruption of one kind or another is becoming more common.

Still, an impeachment procedure on average every 15 years is extraordinary.  We should spend time thinking why.  Is the discipline sometimes afforded by political parties […] Continue Reading…