The Institutions Push Back

4 mins read
Supreme Court, White House, and Congress
Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

Today, USA today reported that:

When we say that the institutions are holding out, that’s what we mean.

Oh, dear me. Federal judges have a lot of power.

What I meant was that one of the democratic institutions, or safeguards, baked into the constitution system is that we have an independent judiciary.

Federal judges are appointed for life, so they don’t have to fear retaliation. They also interpret the Constitution and make the decisions that can hold a rogue executive in check.

Yet another democratic institution is the independence of prosecutors. In autocracies, the autocrat decides who will be prosecuted. The autocrat also decides whether that person will be found guilty. (An occurrence in Soviet Russia was fake, or staged, trials.) In a liberal democracy, the prosecutor has independence, meaning that the prosecutor makes decisions freed from political pressure.

The executive branch, under Trump, is trying to seize control of all levers of government.

With federal judges calling an emergency meeting, we see one branch of government (the judicial branch) pushing back against another (the executive branch). The House of Representatives similarly pushed back against Trump’s power grabs and abuse of power. The Senate, however, completely caved.*

*Because the Republicans hold the majority. I’ve been saying for a while that part of our problem is a lawbreaking president. The other part is that he is being shielded by a major political party.

The Constitution divides power three ways, which makes it harder for one part of the government (Trump) to seize control of all other parts.

Here’s another example of the institutions pushing back:

The lawsuit was brought by the Southern Coalition for Justice. Just because you don’t see the warriors for democracy at work, doesn’t mean they are not busy working to save us.

We can compare Trump’s power grabs to Hitler’s in the 1930s and Putin’s in the 1990s. Germany was ruled by an emperor until the end of World War I. Russia had no history of democracy. This means that Germany in the 1930s had very little in the way of democratic institutions, and Russia had almost nothing.

Other institutions include .the free press and federalist system. We have 51 separate jurisdictions (federal + the states). It’s a sprawling complicated system with entrenched traditions.

In contrast to Germany in the 1930s and Russia in the 1990s, in the U.S., we have had a few hundred years of judicial independence and prosecutorial independence. So the institutions are holding out. (Except for the Senate.)

It isn’t easy for a dictator to take over.

Our democratic institutions are being battered and pummeled, but they’re holding out. Will they hold out forever against Trump’s onslaught? No, of course not.

I agree with Nancy Pelosi who said we can survive four years of Trump, but a second term will not be easy to recover from, which is why everyone needs to get busy. (See my list here)

Originally posted on Musing About Law, Books, and Politics.
Re-posted with permission.


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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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