“Vigilance” is on everyone’s mind in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory. Having elected someone with no experience in public office or military affairs, citizens of the United States need to be aware of exactly what he and our representatives are doing on our behalf.
Those shocked and especially those saddened by the outcome are on the front lines promising to hope for the best and hold Trump’s feet to the fire. Good. It’s about time everyone take the separation of powers guaranteed by our Constitution seriously. It’s about time we listen to Thomas Jefferson:
“Though [the people] may acquiesce, they cannot approve what they do not understand.”
When the Democrats wanted to fundamentally transform America, as Obama promised, they were stymied almost immediately by the rules they had championed when it was George W. Bush at the helm. They will claim the title of “defenders of the Republic” now that it’s Trump’s agenda at bat - hypocrisy is the main character trait of many politicians. This is not all that lamentable, though, because no matter how much they complain, they never seem to change the rules.
In fact, there exists a whole class of institutionalists such as Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Arizona Senator John McCain, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, Utah Senator Mike Lee, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, Maine Senator Angus King, Chairman of the House Rules Committee Representative Pete Sessions, and Speaker of the House Representative Paul Ryan that will put the long-term interest of the institutions in which they serve ahead of any and all personal, partisan, or ideological pursuits. They take service seriously and they know they’re thankful for protections when it’s their turn in the minority. It’s better to insist on the firm establishment of permanent rules and standards than to leave the public at the whims of temporary majorities.
Of course, this is the way it ought to be. This is what the Founders intended, and this is what the Constitution guarantees. The balancing of power between among government officials is intrinsically the best defense against the predilections and predations of temporary leaders. Ours is a government of the people in which citizens are elected to serve fixed-year terms at the consent of their constituents but that is the most basic level of civic understanding.
We might need a reminder of how a bill eventually becomes a law but to truly understand what’s going down in D.C., you need a lot more knowledge than “Schoolhouse Rock” offers. Just who is the Senate Parliamentarian and what do they do? What’s budget reconciliation? Cloture? Quorums? What is “filling the tree?” Why are some appointments subject to Senate approval and others are not? There’s a lot of questions about the arcane processes that govern our representative bodies, so bone up quickly.
Seek out respected and knowledgeable experts, reporters, and professionals that can explain the proceedings like the Washington Post’s self-anointed fact-checker Glenn Kessler, legendary reporter Bob Woodward, Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Former Senator Alan Simpson, and Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institution. Resist the partisan hackery that is so often placed front and center on television. There are people who know better, and there are people that don’t, but we must resist the urge to put on partisan blinders when it comes to analyzing policy and priorities. One person’s “obstruction” is another’s “protection of our rights.” Gridlock is a feature of representative democracy, not a defect. And one politician's “necessary measures” might conversely be unconstitutional, breaking rules, or “making them up as we go along.”
Though the excruciating campaign season has ended, this is just the start of further debates and disagreements so look forward to pundits, self-proclaimed professionals, and talk show hosts explaining in gory detail the procedures and processes that are the lifeblood of a republican form of government.
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