Wither ‘Murica

No one who has read a word I’ve written over the course of my life will be surprised to hear that I loathe Donald Trump and everything his administration has come to represent with an abiding passion that makes Romeo and Juliet look like puppy love.

The man is a menace. He’s the single biggest challenge to the rule of law and the global growth of democracy since at least 9/11 and possibly since Stalin.

While many were comfortable dismissing such concern as hyperbolic pearl-clutching for the first couple years of his presidency, the last six months have made the intentions of Trump and his enablers Waterford crystal clear.

Take the first “presidential” “debate” (there was nothing Presidential about it and it was less a debate than a playground shouting match) as a case in point: while Joe Biden is absolutely imperfect – both as a candidate and a person – it would be nigh on impossible to argue that Joe is not a good and decent human being. That didn’t stop Trump from trying.

Personal attacks; shouts of disproven allegations against Biden’s family; nonsensical rantings; incomprehensible recitations of half sentences and incomplete thoughts. No sane person could come away from that “debate” thinking that Trump wasn’t all the things asserted above. And yet, he is the incumbent and his defeat is far from certain.

At the same time, however, Trump is exactly who America’s founding fathers were worried about when they drafted their Constitution. He is why there are separate, co-equal branches of government and why there are all the cheques and balances that have often seemed frustrating excesses in “normal” times.

It was a brilliant work of political art by people who knew just how fragile their new democracy would be and the ease with which it could be hijacked by a demagogue bent on power for power’s sake.

The Founders (working almost a hundred years before Canadian confederation) had very few models to consult – they were largely “stick building” their democracy. They also knew that monarchy (which they equated with tyranny) was the most familiar form of government to their countrymen. It was absolutely reasonable in their minds to assume that some charismatic individual could come along and easily hijack this new thing they’d built.

That’s why the American system is loaded with what they call “checks and balances”: the Electoral College; the need for Congress to confirm a Presidential election; Senate confirmations of almost all senior appointments by the executive; a Supreme Court that not only rules on laws but sometimes makes its own; and so on. And while some – like the Electoral College – are undoubtedly outmoded anachronisms that aren’t consistent with a healthy democracy in the 21st century, but the bulk have served Americans well – in normal times.

To Canadians and our Westminster system, the disconnect between the legislature and the executive can seem strange – artificial and inconvenient, really. This is never more manifest then when Congress and the President can’t agree on a budget: the government of the United States just shuts down. No one gets paid so no one comes to work. Absolutely anathema to Canadians since our Prime Minister is only Prime Minister because they can get the support of the Commons to pass a budget. The two are utterly inseparable.

But that’s not Washington. And that’s not what their Founders wanted.

What they could not possibly have anticipated, however, was that by the time the fruits of their literal blood, sweat and tears were truly be put to the test, the revolution in which they themselves had fought and thousands of their friends and neighbours had died would be such a distant memory that partisanship and party loyalty would completely and utterly usurp any obligation their descendents felt to the laws and institutions they had created.

Notwithstanding the invective leveled at Trump above, Mitch McConnell is arguably an even worse human being and even more of a deleterious force in Washington politics. And brother, is that bar high.

But consider some historical context:

In Dante’s Inferno, below all the other rings of hell, in the Lake of Fire, in the Mouth of the Beast were the three worst humans in history according to Dante’s medieval logic. Not the rapists or murders who we would think of in contemporary times. No, the three worst possible humans to Dante were Brutus, Cassius and Judas Iscariot.

Why? Because they had committed the worst possible sin for someone living in a feudal system: they had voluntarily given their oaths of loyalty and fealty to their chosen masters and then broken that oath out of self-interest and conspired in the death of one they had pledged to protect.

Dante could imagine nothing worse. His entire world order depended on those who made such oaths keeping their word – no matter the personal cost.

Dante would clearly need to dig a basement under the bottom ring of hell to find a place he felt suitable for McConnell. And the founding fathers would no doubt happily sling the shovels.

Because fundamentally Dante and Ben Franklin clearly shared one critical belief: that an oath is sacred and, specifically, that an oath to defend the Constitution and the Republic would necessarily trump any personal, political or partisan consideration.

But not Mitch McConnell and the other GOP enablers in the Senate. They have repeatedly chosen their own pathetic, political, partisan interests over their oaths as Senators – over the health of the Republic and the functioning of democratic institutions.

That many of those Senators then have the absolute gall to call themselves “originalists” or otherwise faithful to the intentions of the Constitution’s authors – especially when it comes to satisfying their political and financial overlords at the NRA by blindingly defending the 2nd Amendment – should be sickening to Americans.

And yet, Trump is the incumbent and might very well win again. He certainly made clear (once again) at this week’s “debate” that he intends to do everything possible – legal or otherwise – to try and keep himself in the White House come January.

In fact, despite his generally incomprehensible ramblings, Trump made three things absolutely clear: first, Trump has no intention of honouring the results of the election if they aren’t to his liking; second, he fully intends to rile up the vile hoards of racists and mental midgets who hang on his every word to engage in violence across the country if he loses; and third, Trump and his campaign will unleash a locust-like plague of lawyers on local, state and federal courts to contest every possible challenge to his victory.

Any one of these should appall every single American the way they would appall the authors of their constitution (or Dante, come to that). Taken together they are proof positive of Trump’s malicious intent and his complete disregard for political, constitutional or democratic norms when it comes to this election.

Americans have never seen anything like Trump. While its true that American politics was broken before 2016 (largely as a result of a huge number of Americans simply unwilling to accept a Black man as president), the potentially fatal damage to the system itself and its institutions has taken place almost entirely within the last four years. And it is very likely the worst is yet to come.

But it is the complete unwillingness on the part of McConnell and the rest of the GOP to do a goddamn thing about Trump’s scorched earth approach to governing – despite having all of the constitutional tools necessary at their fingertips – that truly bodes ill for the next few months.

If I were an American I would be nothing short of terrified. And as Canadians living precariously close to this ongoing dumpster fire, we likely shouldn’t expect too many good nights sleep between now and January 21st either.

Jamie Carroll is a former National Director of the Liberal Party of Canada who now lives and works in Calgary.

Photo: American Flag, iStock