Three branches of government? Balance of power? Each branch with its own distinct role in preserving our democracy?
Every school child in America learns that the United States Constitution established three branches of government: “legislative Powers” in Article I, “executive Power” in Article II, and “judicial Power” in Article III.
Nowhere in the Constitution are political parties mentioned. In fact, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party were not founded until well into the 1800s. So how is it that these two parties have managed to blur the distinctions among the three branches of government?
While much has been said about the way Obama and now Trump have overstepped their authority in the use of executive orders and the way the judicial branch has become so politicized, the legislative branch seems to be far more egregious than either in wielding its powers recklessly.
Because of the power of the two parties that operate more and more from the extremes of their base, they seem to be acting as judge and jury, often against the wishes of their constituents.
Nowhere is this legislative recklessness more obvious than on the issue of gun control. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 89% of Americans—from both political parties—favor preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns. Eighty-five percent of Democrats and 82% of Republicans favor banning gun purchases for people on no-fly or watch lists; 90% of Democrats and 77% of Republicans favor background checks for private sales and gun shows; 80% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans favor banning assault-style weapons.
Why, then, has Congress found it impossible to pass even the most sensible of gun policy measures? Both parties are very good at getting the most strident politicians elected to office—on party platforms that increasingly pander to the most extreme views of their bases.
Almost every problem we face is impossible to solve because staying in office precludes the willingness to compromise—on healthcare, abortion, income inequality, social justice, education funding, immigration. The list is long.
Instead of finding common ground, our legislators take the all or none approach that should be the purview of the judicial branch. A judge and jury must decide on one side or the other: Either a defendant is guilty or innocent—with no room for complexity in the verdict rendered.
This ought not be so in the legislative process. We are a complex people with varied perspectives. Our laws work best when a majority of citizens see them as just. Unfortunately, our legislative branch seems incapable of passing laws that weigh equally on the scales of justice.
Even when we don’t join either major party, our only politically viable choices in elections come from these two parties. And so the scales of justice swing with a thud from one side to the other when the party in power changes.
I think often these days of the story of King Solomon when presented with two women who both lay claim to the same baby. In his wisdom, Solomon understands that it is impossible to discern which woman is the true mother of the baby, so rather than rendering judgment on one side or the other, he orders that the baby be cut in half, with part of it given to each woman. The story goes that the baby’s birth mother is willing to give up the baby rather than see it killed.
Unfortunately, most of our legislators would rather see the baby killed than to give it up. When each issue comes up, rather than give up any part of what they want and love, they would rather kill the solution before there’s any chance to see a compromise grow into maturity.
This inability to insist on the common good above party is slowly poisoning all three branches of government. We need an antidote, and I’m not sure what it is.
I would like to vote for thinking, sensible candidates who are willing to change their minds when presented with new evidence, willing to compromise instead of insisting on ideological purity. I would like to see Supreme Court justices who insist on a balanced scale of justice instead of placing the coins of their party on only one side of the scale. I would like to see a president who sees herself as the leader of all Americans, who can cross her party’s base when it’s in the best interests of the people.
Like most voters, I’m forced to side with the candidate who most represents the views I value. But I’d be willing to support a candidate from the other party once he’s in office if I trusted that he sought justice and acted for the common good.
I could have felt that way when John McCain became his party’s nominee for the 2008 election. But then he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, a move designed to cement his support at the extremes of his base.
In every instance when voters have chosen party over compromise, our nation has suffered. And the fact that Donald Trump was able to get elected—and has the lowest approval record of any president in recorded history—should be enough to convince us that something needs to change.
So, please, DNC and GOP, give us candidates in 2018 who wouldn’t be completely offensive to people in the other party! Candidates who value character above conflict. Candidates who could be respected even by voters who disagree with the party platform. Candidates who understand what the Constitution demands of them. Candidates who understand and value the separation of powers.
Give us anything less, and you doom our democracy.