America Hits Snooze Yet Again
When Will They Wake Up To Progress?
Photo courtesy of Langston Hughes
by Rosie Benny
Throughout much of Obama’s presidency, a republican controlled Congress refused to even consider the agenda of a progressive president. Obama’s ideas were bad simply because he had thought of them. Affordable healthcare for millions? We’ll get back to you. Gun control? No thanks. LGBT protections? Not a chance.
Those frustrating 8 years proved that Congress is the most powerful branch of government, and when Trump was sworn in, the American public was reminded exactly why it should be.
Trump’s election struck fear into the hearts of vulnerable communities. Whose rights would he try and take next? Who would be the next minority to be belittled on national TV?
Thanks to Congress, the commander-in-chief has struggled to command much of anything.
The founding fathers formed the American system of government based on a fear of tyranny. Having been at the mercy of a despotic monarch, the framers swore never again, and created a system of checks and balances that prevented any single man or institution from abusing their power over the people. The legislature is so big, and the parties so state-centric, that no single man can become tyrannical. The powers are separate, but the institutions have an overlap of responsibilities that forces consensus building.
President Trump has managed to pass only one big piece of domestic legislation – his tax cut for the wealthy – as the House now simply refuses to work with him. Even before the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, he couldn’t build the border wall because much of Congress refuse to consider it in a meaningful sense.
This kind of behaviour was infuriating under Obama. Many were understandably outraged and frustrated when McConnell refused to have hearings on Garland’s Supreme Court nomination. When Kavanagh was nominated, there was an outcry that Congress couldn’t do more to stop an alleged rapist from getting a seat on the most powerful court in the country.
Congress is protecting the public from the presidency. We didn’t see it before, but with a President who is, in the eyes of some, dangerous, perhaps now we ought to be a little more grateful.
Even when not playing defence for the American people, Congress is the most accountable branch of government. The House is up for election every two years, along with a third of the senate. Members of the House are never not running for election. Any questionable decision could bring about their downfall. The 2018 midterms proved that no one is safe. Ocasio Cortez’s usurpation of a three term incumbent proved that members of Congress have to stay intimately connected to their constituency. The phenomena of split ticket voting shows that party affiliation can become less important, so long as you serve the specific interests of your district.
This level of accountability is unique to the legislature, and it’s why it should be the most powerful branch of government. The constitutionally dictated electoral schedule doesn’t allow Congress to deviate too far from the will of the people. In comparison, Supreme Court Justices essentially have a job for life and the President, outside of a re-election bid, is subject merely to poor press, with impeachment as a nuclear option so rarely used it is barely a threat at all. As such, the executive and the judiciary can bring down unpopular decisions and can disregard any of the political blowback, safe in the knowledge that their job is secure. But when those we disagree with are in power, we can sleep easy knowing that Congress can and will dilute any threatening or radical change.