I’d like to start by dispelling a rumor I’d heard, that my blog is for my Patreon supporters and if you’re not in on that, you shouldn’t bother. Nope, my blog is actually for everyone. If you can see this link, you can totally read my blog. If you’ve been linked somewhere else, have fun! My Patreon is for people who’d like to encourage and reward me for my creative endeavors and occasionally see shorter thoughts that aren’t big enough or developed enough for blogs. They can also suggest topics for me to cover. But mostly, they’re just cool people who think my brain excretions are worth a few bucks a month.
Anyways, the last time I was hitting the topic of the American democracy-that-isn’t, I was talking about how every facet of our voices has been co-opted, ignored, and corrupted, a clear and present violation of the first pillar of democracy. And now I’m going to discuss how one of the cherished portions of American government doesn’t even really exist. The entire idea of the Checks and Balances of Power has been almost entirely eradicated from our system.
Ideally, the checks and balances takes the form of separation of powers. The legislative branch writes the laws, the executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch decides if said laws are right within our framework. But think about that for a minute. Take some time. When was the last time you saw the executive branch not totally involved in legislation for his party beyond his power to issue executive orders and veto bills? The president is the member of his party with the highest office in the land, and we really expect him to push his own agenda on the entire legislative process. When the ACA was being drafted, Obama was in it all the way. We literally don’t know who actually wrote the bill or who brought it to the floor, it’s ObamaCare.
And who’s in charge of all government policy that isn’t directly tied to congress? It’s the presidential administration and his cabinet. Foreign policy, internal policy, agriculture, housing and urban development, the head of the CIA, all of these are the Administration’s purview, and there’s not a whole lot of oversight from the other branches on these cabinet positions. There may be a senate hearing over misconduct, there might be laws passed to limit things, but in reality, they’re pretty much operating with impunity in their various stations.
So, really, the executive branch’s check and balance system is completely broken and we really expect it to operate like it does. Let’s check in on the Judicial Branch.
One of the more striking international stories recently was the case of Alfie Evans. He was a little boy who, and I don’t know all the details here so I’m skipping them, was in a coma. The doctors at his hospital declared that he would never have quality of life, would never achieve consciousness due to the brain atrophy he’d gone through, and would be reliant on machines to do his autonomous functions, so they decided that it would be in his best interest to pull the plug now rather than wait and see if anything could be done decades down the road as medicine technology improved – largely because that’s incredibly unpredictable and they’d be saving a shell of a person who lacked any higher brain function just in case something might come along. His parents disagreed. The court was brought in to make a ruling. Rome offered to treat the kid and had even sent a life-flight chopper to do so. The court ruled with the doctors, and disallowed Alfie’s trip to Italy. It’s all very sad, but it’s also entirely within British law, and it all makes a great deal of sense when you read into it. However, Americans invested in the case immediately decried it as a failure of social medicine and stated that the government forced its ruling onto parents who just wanted to save their baby. It was quite a bit more complicated than that and I’m fairly sure you can find every bit of information available on the subject if you so choose, but I’m focusing on the American response.
You see, Americans fully understand and believe that Judges are entirely partial, especially towards their side of the liberal-conservative spectrum and are agents of the state who make rulings to enforce the law of the land. In the UK, though, courts are unbiased arbiters of the law, and while appointed by the state, are not beholden to its views. So when the Americans started saying that the UK government willfully killed Alfie to hold onto it’s precious control over healthcare, the Brits were often incredibly confused by that statement, which is why they were terrible at addressing that particular line when it was thrown around. They’d respond with “no, the government didn’t do anything, the court did,” not understanding that over here, those things are considered one in the same for a lot of people.
In tangential news, exit polls on election night in 2016 revealed that about 70% of voters were most focused on the prospect of Judicial appointments. Yes, a lot of people who voted Trump did so because they knew if a Republican was in office, they’d appoint a lot of conservative judges to federal postings. In fact, since Roe vs Wade, who gets to appoint Supreme Court justices has been incredibly important to politically-minded folks because of the vicious cycle of conservatives wanting to overturn the ruling and liberals wanting to block, like it’s a game of tic-tac-toe only it’s about what women can legally do to the proto-humans that grow in their bodies. We, as Americans, think it’s perfectly normal and absolutely ok for judges to rule on major issues by their personal political leanings, and not by what the law says or does. It’s so ingrained that we don’t even find the concept of Activist Judges to be appalling. We are entirely unbothered by the idea that Judges will interpret and change law entirely based on their own feelings on the matters at hand, not by what is and isn’t right or intended by our founding documents which are supposed to be the highest law in the land. Regular people even stating that there are different interpretations to the words in the Constitution is so uncontroversial that they’re regular talking points and party platforms.
Speaking of Judicial appointments, we all know how those work, right? The Executive branch appoints people to fill judicial positions, and the Legislative branch, specifically the Senate, confirms those appointments. But we’ve now been in a position where partisan politics have been using every trick available to them to hold up these appointments for as long as possible in order to ensure the party of their choosing gets to pick the judges going in. Famously, the senate refused to hear confirmations on any supreme court candidates in the last 6 months of his administration, and more recently, the Trump administration has has a hell of a time slogging nominees for everything through the Senate, sometimes on partisan ground and sometimes out of pure vindictiveness or bad nominations. Essentially, the parties want their own people or at least moderates close enough to their own people in positions, and have been doing everything they can to stop nominees that aren’t friendly to them.
And the list goes on. At every part of the whole Check and Balance process, the political parties have manipulated expected action and procedure to make this whole mess of muddied waters of responsibility and usable powers to benefit themselves or at least not benefit the other guys. At this point in history, we are so used to the idea that politicians will make all their decisions and actions based on party politics over rule of law and unbiased views of progress as a society that it’s become a complete non-issue. We literally don’t complain about it unless the other side is doing something we don’t like and we don’t have a solid footing for complaints other than “lack of bias and constitutionally appropriate ideas”. The entire process these days is to stack the deck at every point in the Check and Balance so that you don’t have to actually deal with it, and to make everything harder for the other side to get things done. It’s less a government process and more a boardgame these days. And that’s just fucked up.
I’d like to thank my supporters on Patreon – you know who you are by now – and everyone who reads, even semi-regularly, my brain spatterings on here. It definitely helps me and my mental state to write, and having an audience makes it more pertinent to me. Hopefully I can get fully back on the horse and do posts in a better schedule than “oh shit, the month’s over tomorrow, what do I have?” soon, but we’ll see.