The Green Papers Commentary
 

TRANSFER OF POWER, TRANSFORMATION OF POLICY
Donald Trump takes the helm of the 'Ship of State'

Thursday, January 19, 2017

by RICHARD E. BERG-ANDERSSON
TheGreenPapers.com Staff


You are now a King, under a different name--
JAMES McHENRY of Maryland (who had been a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia) to GEORGE WASHINGTON on Washington's impending installation as the first President of the United States.

By God, I would rather be in my grave than in this place! I would rather live out my days on my farm than be emperor of the world!--
President GEORGE WASHINGTON, erupting in frustration in a Cabinet meeting during his more contentious second term in office


As the time reaches precisely 12 o'clock ad meridiem (Standard Time, though, not Local Mean Time) in the National Capital of Washington, D.C. [1700 GMT] tomorrow [Friday 20 January 2017], Donald J. Trump will immediately become President of the United States of America in place of outgoing President Barack H. Obama...

and it will matter not where, exactly, the Inauguration Ceremony itself might then find itself within its own script, even if the Oath of Office itself might not yet have been taken by Mr. Trump: for the United States Constitution itself is in control here-- and, even though Article II, Section 1, clause 8 of that most fundamental document requires that [b]efore he enter on the execution of his office, he [that is: the President] shall take the following oath [that is: the 35 word-long Presidential Oath], the later 20th Amendment (which, seemingly, knows no such ceremony nor sentimentality and, instead, merely modifies that which it was intended to amend) is most emphatic in this regard, starkly stating that [t]he terms of the President and Vice-President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January...; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

Thus, there can never not be an incumbent President of the United States of America-- not even for a single second!

Even back in the era during which the 20th Amendment was ratified, as the Nation was still struggling to get out from under the Great Depression- while the darker forces of Fringe Politics were already well gathering in Europe, unknowingly (to that Nation) signalling the coming of an ever greater, military, conflict less than a decade hence (a conflict that would, thereafter, place the entire globe in a quite perilous state come the advent of nuclear weapons [but also make the United States, already a rather reluctant Great Power, into both a Superpower (eventually, even a so-called 'Hyperpower') and, thereby, a globally-influential hegemon: in truth, the first such hegemon with far more geographical influence than it had territory, whether for good or for ill])- the notion that the country could just sit around and wait for an oath to have been taken before a President could even, where necessary, both constitutionally and legally act was already being seen as dangerous to national security as it might also have been a quaint relic of much simpler times.

This all does not, in any way, render the Presidential Oath of no import: on the contrary, the Presidential Oath's key promises (contained within its final words)- that the President (again, per Article II, Section 1, clause 8) will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States- are themselves the very essence of the Nation's Highest Office.

As I have noted more than a few times already elsewhere on this website, no other Federal officer- elective or appointive, civilian or military- takes such an oath: all other such Federal officers (as well as many, if not most, State and local equivalents), instead, pledge, as part of their own oaths of office, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic and, while such an oath is certainly not one for the oath-taker to at all take lightly, this does not at all change the fact that only a President has to so solemnly promise to "preserve" and "protect", as well as "defend", that same Constitution...

regardless, as the clocks within the Eastern Time Zone of the United States all simultaneously strike Noon tomorrow, the veritable "keys" to Executive Power over those same United States transfer automatically, yet constitutionally, from the Obama Administration to a new Trump Administration at that exact same moment: no oath, whether already taken or not, either changes this or mitigates the inherent responsibility so transferred, and that responsibility- along with the constitutional power that enables it- is, indeed, extensive (as well as still largely undefined)!

Yet it's not as if the President of the United States has the proverbial "blank check": instead, the American Presidency is an odd mix of specific duties and powers themselves operating within a much larger sphere of overall (but unspecified) 'Executive Power'.

As I myself have written, more than a few times, elsewhere for this very website: the President of the United States is, in essence and in reality, an elected 'King' (who, nonetheless, also functions as his own 'Prime Minister').

Indeed, the High Office that is the American Presidency, in its original conception, could have been naught much else: for the principal example of Executive Power with which American statesmen of the very late 18th Century were most familiar with (given their own experience and observations as having once been subjects of same) was that, even yet at that same time, being exercised over its remaining 'Domininions across the seas' as well as the home islands by the Crown of Great Britain from which the United States of America- themselves (and the plural here would have certainly been most appropriate back then) struggling with just how to craft a "more perfect Union" than the one operating under the Articles of Confederation- had so recently separated.

Thus, the following (specified) duties specifically required (in Sections 2 and 3 of the U.S. Constitution's Article II) of the President by the drafters of the then-new Federal Constitution:

  • to be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and (perhaps the more noteworthy, given the times) of the militia of the several States when called into the actual service of the United States
  • to, from time to time, give to the Congress information of the State of the Union
  • to receive ambassadors and other public ministers
  • to take care that the laws be faithfully executed
  • to commission all the officers of the United States

the above are all, most certainly, "kingly" duties and are in addition to more "ministerial" (modern terminology would prefer "administrative") powers, also specifically, allowed to the same office (albeit, here, in its capacity as also being a governmental 'First Ministership') within those same constitutional sections:

  • to require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices
  • to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment
  • to make Treaties (by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur)
  • to nominate (and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoint) ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States whose appointments shall be established by Law (where not otherwise found within the Constitution itself: although Congress ever retains power to vest the appointments of such "lesser officials" elsewhere)
  • to fill vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate by granting commissions, which shall expire at the end of their next session.

But, in the main, the American Presidency was- at the start- pretty much but a basic template to be, more or less, filled in by the office's first occupant (who, and this was as anticipated- and even hoped for- by at least most of those who had attended the Constitutional Convention and actually signed the document, was to be- as things turned out- that Convention's own presiding officer, George Washington). However, despite the precedents set by Washington himself in the course of his two terms as President, even to this day- more than two centuries on- the Executive Power itself is still very much the proverbial "blank canvas" waiting to be filled in by each President after he or she has taken office.

Yet, what would ever keep this American elective 'King-as-First Minister' in check- that is: from becoming the very Tyrant (in the sense that those denominated 'Patriot' during the late American Revolution had used that term against King George III of England) many Americans (especially those who had been in the so-called 'Antifederalist' camp during the debates over Ratification of the Constitution) yet feared back in 1789 as Washington himself first took the aforementioned Presidential Oath- was both periodic, albethey indirect, elections for that High Office, as well as the personal integrity (or lack thereof) of the President himself (yet another precedent established by President Washington, arguably the only man who- at least at the start of his Presidency- was implicitly trusted by all).

Thus, the Federal Executive Power per se is constitutionally plenary (although only within its own sphere): for, whereas "legislative powers" (and the plural found within Section 1 of Article I of the U.S. Constitution has been utilized in precisely the same sense I have used it above) are but "herein granted" specifically (that is: within the text of the Constitution itself) to Congress, "[t]he Executive Power" (singular in Section 1 of Article II) is "vested in a President of the United States of America" and nowhere else is this singular 'Executive Power' so specifically defined.

Even many of those who haven't actually seen the film Lincoln from a few years back now have had the chance to have seen its trailer on TV containing actor Daniel Day-Lewis's 'Honest Abe' declaiming that his High Office is "clothed in immense power"...

and so it was then-- and certainly still is today!

It is this "immense power" that alone provides that which Alexander Hamilton (in Federalist No. 70) described as energy in the executive, necessary if only because (as Hamilton himself put it in same) [a] feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, bad government. In contrast [e]nergy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government, such "energy"- as so described by Hamilton- consisting of unity; duration; an adequate provision for its support; and competent powers.

But what, then, prevents such just an energetic Executive (so "clothed in immense power") from becoming tyrannical, even despotic (again, as the revolutionary Patriots themselves, somewhat hyperbolically, used such terms)- that is: from becoming that which Hamilton himself admitted was seen by his antifederalist opponents as being inconsistent with the genius of republican government? Hamilton's own answer was that safety in the republican sense lay with the executive's due dependence on the people, and a due responsibility.

Modern Political Science sees Government as consisting of three basic elements: Administration of the State itself, popular Accountability, and Rule of Law. Every Government around the globe has (or, perhaps, doesn't have!) these same three elements in varying degrees of weakness and/or strength (depending on the given country and its own constitution) as well as much or little interplay between them (or none). In what we might call a 'Hamiltonian' formulation of such concepts, his "energetic executive" is State Administration (hence the very use of that term 'Administration' for a given Presidency)- with popular Accountability evincing "due dependence [of the Administration] on the people" and Rule of Law enjoining his "due responsibility [on the part of the Executive]".

The image here is that of the Executive (either in the person of the President himself, or the workings of an Administration that bears his name) inside a "bubble" (yes, the very "sphere" of its Power) and ever pushing out against the walls of that bubble in order to attempt to expand it (yes, indeed, truly "pushing the envelope"), while both popular Accountability (in the form of the duly elected members of both houses of Congress as representative of the People) and Rule of Law (Jurisprudence: the application of law through rulings handed down by the Courts in live "cases or controversies" brought before them) attempt to press the walls of that same "bubble" back inward. Thus, a more 'Madisonian' model of Institutional Egalitarianism (each Branch of Government being co-equal under the Constitution)- one largely embraced by Abraham Lincoln himself- tends to prevail (with due and proper judicial application of Rule of Law [Hamiltonian 'Judicial Review'] as something of a "safety valve" should things get too weird: the Constitution itself as 'Reset' button for the whole Federal System).

It is the very mantle of this elective (but also energetic) Kingship/Premiership so "clothed in immense power" that is- and, truth be told, ever has been (at least the potential) of- the American Presidency that Donald Trump will symbolically place upon his own shoulders when he takes the Presidential Oath of Office on the morrow.

But the President of the United States is as much an 'Emperor' as he might also be an elected 'King' and this despite the strong streak of anti-Statism that has flowed within the veins of American political culture going all the way back to when there first came into existence just such an "American political culture"...

throughout its own History, and this certainly even more so during the time since the end of World War II (a period of time that [if only slightly] exceeds our new President's own lifespan), the United States of America has- over time- been pulled more and more into the World at large, despite its own best efforts to not be so drawn: the people of the metropole of an 'Empire' ever seeking, somehow, to avoid entanglements on behalf of, or even with, its own overseas 'Protectorates' largely out of fear of its own power.


It was the old yearning for the lost youth of America, for the ghost of the Frontier, for the innocence and confidence of those days, and for the far simpler world in which the Atlantic and Pacific oceans were huge barriers behind which we could conduct our own affairs unhampered by the rest of the human race. In such a world, could we but recreate it, there would be no need for big governments, big unions, big taxes, or even big wars. And there would be no need to admit that we cannot always get our own way by yelling loudly enough. Part of the charm of the Frontier myth is its irresponsible childishness.--
HERBERT AGAR, noting similarities between the presidential campaign of Democrat William Jennings Bryan in 1896 to that of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 in his Preface to the Second Edition of THE PRICE OF UNION: The Influence of the American Temper on the Course of History [1966]


As I wrote on this website nearly three years ago now: the United States of America is not so much a country- that is: a Nation-State in the usual sense of the term- so much as it is the core of an 'Empire'. I went on to note- in that same piece- that this 'Empire', nonetheless, is not an Imperium, in which the Federal Government of the United States of America has direct- at least, political- control over said Imperium's components but, instead, a Constellation: that is, a mere collection of allies and protectorates which, if only from time to time, can tell the "Emperor" (the President of the United States and his/her Administration) just where to "stick it" and- more or less (again, from time to time)- get away with it...

yet I then went on to note that these same allies and protectorates know (and, in many cases, have even come to expect) that the USofA will- again, more or less- "have their back" when the proverbial "excrement" first reaches the proverbial "air conditioner" (if you know what I mean!) and then, further, pointed out, that in truth, the United States (as the metropole of this Constellation) has to do just that (like it or not!).

President Trump's own campaign position on this score- and he has "doubled-down" on this during the week leading up to his Inauguration- has most strongly suggested that an alliance such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is, in his own view (as well as those of more ultra-nationalist bent within his incoming Administration's advisory core), all too obsolescent: it is no wonder, then, why many- if not most- of our allies in NATO (the very 'Constellation' I have defined above), especially those closer to Russia than others, are at least somewhat jittery as Donald Trump now takes office. And this is precisely why, whether he himself likes it or not, American relations with Russia (no, not Illegal Immigration from South of the Border, say-- but Russia!) is, if only for the time being at the very beginning of the Trump Administration, the best "canary in the coal mine" within that Administration's own Foreign Policy.

It is not simply all about the Russian hacking (real, alleged and merely imagined, depending on the best objective data and who might be interpreting it) related- indirectly, where not even directly (if not both)- to the recent American Federal Election: it is, instead, far more about President Trump having surrounded himself with many of those who, energized by his own late presidential campaign, have now crawled out of a blind, as well as rather dark, alley off of the main avenue of modern, early 21st Century geopolitics: a worldview- a coffin, more than it might be just a box, and one well covered in layers of cobwebs- that not only well harks back to the Holy Alliance of the early 19th Century (in which Austria, Prussia and Russia- in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars- sought to jointly beat back the forces behind the more secular application of the aforementioned Rule of Law [an effort which, in the end, well served as at least kindling for the flames later erupting across continental Europe in the revolutionary year of 1848]) but also even back to the Westphalian Settlement of the mid-17th Century itself...

Cuius regio, eius religio (Whose be the territory, his be the religion), indeed!

Yet, no less than was once the case by the end of the Thirty Years War that so produced that Westphalian Settlement, Central Europe (Germany of today and its neighbors immediately to its east and south [Poland, Czechia, Austria-- Switzerland's neutrality and Liechtenstein's smallness in geographical size are not really factors here], along with its smaller neighbors to its nearer west [the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg-- France, although it also borders Germany, is much more a part of Western Europe]) is, historically, the fulcrum of Europe- indeed, of Western Civilization itself (see, for one, historian Brendan Simms' work from but a few years back now, EUROPE: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present) and, therefore, ever the very linchpin of American Foreign Policy (primarily because it remains the key 'core' of the aforementioned 'Constellation', what many global historians call "the 3rd American 'Empire'" [please see my piece for this website of 1 March 2014 for a bullet-point presentation of all three such "American 'Empire's" in historical sequence] of the period since the end of the Second World War).

Basically: NATO (and, concomitantly, the European Union-- even where an EU member-state is not necessarily a NATO member-state and vice versa) is to American Foreign Policy what an Off-Tackle Run (the basic "Trap Play") is to American Football; if a team can't successfully run Off-Tackle from time to time as part of its basic Game Plan, then it's going to seem a rather long afternoon or evening. Likewise, if the postwar United States cannot, or will not, effectively maintain- let alone strongly enough defend (if, when and where required)- its core security alliance (one that, more than any other, keeps America safe through its being made up of that very "Free World" [some three-quarters of NATO members are also EU members] of which the USA has ever promoted itself as leader, as well as protector [against encroachments by potential, where not even actual, adversarial nations]), its Foreign Policy elsewhere across the globe risks being compromised (because a stable Europe has ever been the outer perimeter of defense for an otherwise peaceful and prosperous United States)...

yes, of course there are limits to all this (see, for instance, Niall Ferguson's COLOSSUS: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire), as there always have been, especially in the post-Cold War era-- but the particular overall importance of NATO to American Foreign Policy in general still holds. And a weakening of resolve as might involve NATO threatens to send a rather negative signal to America's other friends and allies well outside of Europe: say, Australia and New Zealand, or Japan and South Korea.

Thus, just how the new Trump Administration handles (or doesn't) America's (and, by extension, NATO's) relationship with Russia- whether it be well or no- will be most important in the coming days, weeks and months: so important, in fact, that besides coloring the rest of President Trump's Foreign Policy (whatever this might turn out to actually be), it will also serve to color much of his Administration's domestic agenda (much of which will be tied in to that Foreign Policy; bringing jobs home from overseas, for one, so obviously has no few Foreign Policy ramifications).

There is also a constitutional component herein, however, not merely a political one: for the North Atlantic Treaty that gives NATO its very name, as well as existence, is itself part and parcel of the supreme Law of the Land of the United States itself (under the provisions of Article VI, clause 2 of the Federal Constitution which reads, at that clause's start: This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land...-- this provision concomitant with the already mentioned [ministerial] power of the President [and, by extension (so being ministerial), his Administration] to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; the North Atlantic Treaty, by the way, was ratified in the Senate on 21 July 1949 by a vote of 82 to 13 [18 more than 2/3 of 95] and President Harry S Truman signed the Instrument of Ratification four days later [even though this, technically, was not constitutionally necessary (other than as an administrative action)]). There is, therefore, a rather high standard in relation to dampening support for NATO on the part of the USA...

and it will be against this very background, constitutional as well as merely political, that the Republican Party itself (more particularly, via that Party's leadership in Congress) will now find itself as it goes about (re)defining itself in this new 'Trumpian' era:

The Republican Party US- as an institution- may well be tempted (given its control of both houses of Congress, with its own most recent presidential nominee now to be ensconced in the White House) to smooth over the rough patches it will inevitably have, and within a relatively short time, with President Trump-- yet it cannot be denied that allowing Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation to become a fuller partner (with- perhaps- few, if any, questions asked) in, say, a new 'Holy Alliance' well flies in the face of longstanding Republican Party Foreign Policy orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that has always tended to the more back the NATO alliance in any situation in which friction between America's European allies and Russia might well prove to be in the offing.

As I have already written since the last Elections: it has to be admitted that the Republican Party of the United States is today badly fissured (despite the GOP's apparent victory in taking functional control of all three branches of the Federal Government): this was plain for all to see during the course of both the pre-National Convention and General Election campaigns-- and this, too, does not simply disappear overnight.. Many of these "fissures" with the Grand Old Party revolve around the relationship of the United States to such mutual security arrangements as is NATO (as part of a long-standing "fight 'em over there, so you don't have to fight 'em here" geopolitical strategy).

Yes, any President of the United States has all due constitutional power to make his or her own Foreign Policy-- yet, at the same time, the question now begs: will 'Parliament' (in the form of the Congress of the United States)- if only eventually, if not sooner- stand up to 'King' (in the person of President Trump), despite the former being- if only titularily- of the same Republican Party that had so nominated him for his High Office? Or, instead, will the 'Emperor' to be residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, DC NW, be permitted- if only by default- to (more or less) "sell off" much support for his (and our) own 'Empire' as part of the "art" behind any "deal" (say, re: a stronger joint effort to fight ISIS in the Middle East, for one) he might now make with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

In any event, just how President Trump now- again, in the earliest days, as well as on through the earliest weeks and months, of his Administration- juggles both NATO and Russia (and it will be a "juggling act") will well signal many of the intentions of his Administration, on a number of issues, across the board...

stay tuned!


[W]ith many hesitations and regrets and with one sad failure, two major parties have emerged as coalitions of local interest-groups devoted to finding and implementing a national political consensus... When all the interests of a federal empire have been consulted, and when a tolerable compromise between them has been reached, the compromise labelled "Democratic" will not be widely different from that labelled "Republican". Yet for the health of the Republic we must have two such coalitions. One would not suffice, for in that case how could we get the rascals out?--
HERBERT AGAR, in his Preface to the Second Edition of THE PRICE OF UNION: The Influence of the American Temper on the Course of History [1966]


As for the opposing Democrats, now to be most fully out of power in Washington (as they have not been in a decade):

I already wrote, in that same post-Election piece, that the Democratic Party is not in as bad a state as are the otherwise victorious Republicans because [p]olitical Parties tend to more likely reform themselves in the wake of defeat, rather than victory. In this particular regard, and if only in the longer term, perhaps the best thing, then, that could have happened to the Democratic Party was the defeat of Hillary Rodham Clinton:

for the national elective political "shelf life" of President and Mrs. Clinton has now, finally, come to an end (although their daughter Chelsea might well have a future career in Politics, should she so choose-- but, in such a case, she would [obviously] be the Clinton of the next generation) and this accomplishes two things of political importance to the Democrats: first, it now allows Barack and Michelle Obama to more completely be the most recent Democrats to have occupied the White House and, second, it now permits the Democratic Party, as an institution, to more fully rebuild and reform itself without any reference at all to its own control (for it now has none) of the Federal Government.

But this does not at all change the fact that the Democrats now also find themselves politically "out in the streets" (both symbolically, as well as [perhaps] literally). Much of a future Democratic Party resurgence (as is the case generally with Political Opposition in the American Republic), then, will largely turn on the missteps of the new Trump Administration (and there will be, as there are in all American presidential Administrations, missteps!)- as well as how well, or how badly, the Republicans (who, after all, are now most fully in power) react to each of these: as was the case with their most recent defeats (the 2010 and 2014 Midterm Elections, as well as this most recent Federal Election), those who are "out" are so out largely because they were, to the average American voter, the very "rascals" about which Herbert Agar wrote more than a half-century ago now...

but a very potential of political Power, once acquired, is that it may yet produce new such "rascals".

The immediate problem for the Democrats, however, is that the Two-Party System (so called, for it isn't really all that systematic: the 'tolerable compromise's of which Mr. Agar- quoted above- once wrote are fluid, or at least ever malleable) itself is under attack. Just as 'Trump Movement' that has placed Donald Trump into the Presidency was, indeed, an insurgency against the Republican Party as an institution, the late presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side (a candidacy by a United States Senator who doesn't even self-identify as a Democrat, no less!) was as much an insurgency against the Democratic Party per se...

it would be one thing for a Republican Party battling within itself (of which more below) to, nonetheless, be in charge while a unified Democratic Party, gathering strength, waited patiently in the wings for the day the Republicans falter (or, at least, falter enough to then become "rascals" to be "gotten out"); but the Democratic Party has its own internal battles to now hash out!

To here reiterate that which I already opined this past 10 November: Two competing brands of Populism are, thereby, so strongly "mixing it up"- and will continue to do so- within American contemporary Politics. ('Populism' here being, if only for the sake of this particular argument, rather loosely defined as a political movement from the ground up: the mass 'rank and file' challenging the institutionalized political order of moment [within, as well as between, Major Parties]: no deeper examination of particular policy options in this regard).

However, it is quite clear that- while Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump supporters throughout 2016 have had much in common, particularly in terms of the many issues they perceive as being of highest importance- they also have a lot of significant differences when it comes to how best to actually deal with said issues: for 'Sandersian' (if you will) Populism is, at its core, a strong element of Social Democracy, albeit somewhat Americanized (many a European Social Democrat might well be forgiven for preferring the adjective "watered-down") by a healthy dose of quasi-libertarian "rugged individualism"-- admittedly, an altogether odd mix that, because of both these streams within 'Sandersism', did not- in turn- all that well address the more traditional concerns of early 21st Century liberal 'Progressivism' (which is why Senator Sanders, in general, did not well break through across the country within the more usual racial, ethnic, sociocultural and politicoeconomic elements that continue, like it or not, to make up the very core of Democratic Party political coalitions [Sanders proved very good at energizing grass-roots activism in Caucus/Convention states, but his only 'yuge' (as well as upset) victory in a "battleground" Democratic Presidential Primary came in Michigan and was not to be replicated])...

this is why, for instance, Bernie Sanders- or so it seemed to me, if only judging by both the sheer number of 'door-yard' (as my late New England-born maternal grandmother would have said) signs seen along the highways and byways of New Hampshire during several visits to my own family up there, combined with the conversations I myself had with said family and their own friends and acquaintances (all, admittedly, merely anecdotal "evidence" to be sure), from mid-2015 well into, and through, 2016- seemed to be about as popular as Donald Trump within the "Live Free or Die" Granite State: and many a most ardent 'Second Amendment Defender' I encountered while spending time up there back during the presidential nomination campaign in both Major Parties was just as likely to be a Sanders supporter as one supporting Trump.

Of course, 'Trumpian' Populism (which tends, generally, to be more nationalist [in its Americanism] than the 'Sandersian' variety) has won the day (although it has not [yet!] completely won over the Republican Party itself)-- which now leads to the obvious question: just where does what might now have to be called populist 'post-Sandersianism' (if only because, while Trump won the White House, Bernie Sanders is not likely to ever again be a viable candidate for the Presidency) fit in either in relation to, or within, the Democratic Party? Or does it so fit in (considering the amount of support Sanders, himself an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, gained from independent voters, as compared to the hard-core Democrat, during the nomination campaign)? Such questions will be first among those that will have to be answered, both within- as well as among left of center-to-left without- the Democratic Party US throughout this next, upcoming two-year election cycle.

The first 'dirty, little secret' of American Politics (especially on the national level, but the same would also be true within our States of at least no little population), however, is that governance itself requires smaller political (or economic [or, for that matter, any other social and/or cultural demographic]) groups to ally themselves (for however short or long a time) with other, if only somewhat similarly-minded, groups in order to then form larger aggregations- themselves allying, if only temporarily, with other like [if not necessarily like-minded] larger aggregations of still other smaller groups- in order to produce a consensus of moment capable of actually governing. Thus, government can only function as a sum of all (or, at times, at least most of) the parts willing to politically support it: the polity itself (large State of the American Union, as well as the United States of America as a whole) is simply much too large for it to be otherwise! (Meanwhile, a smaller-populated State, such as the aforementioned New Hampshire, might well be the more exempt from this pattern: which, in turn, might itself better explain the Sanders-Trump Populist dynamic I perceived therein around a year ago now [give or take] and which I have already described above).

This "political aggregation producing overall consensus" is, in reality, the very essence of the 'Madisonian' ideal (based on James Madison's argument- against those who felt that Republics not small enough could only fail- that, instead, a Republic large enough would be as [small-r] 'republican' as any classic Republic merely the size of a 'city-state'): Herbert Agar's "local interest-groups" ('local' here being used in more than merely the geographical sense, but also embracing demographic and/or ideological 'locality') combining, and thereafter recombining, to produce political consensus at least enough to, for the time being (that is: until the next election), effectively move and adopt Policy. But no such "local interest-group" (not even a first-level [or, perhaps (depending on the circumstances) even a second-level] aggregation of such "local interest-groups") can alone effectively govern; likewise (and this is the second 'dirty, little secret' of American Politics), no such "local interest-group", or a still too local aggregation of even many such groups, can at all efficiently oppose those who might so govern!

It's all rather simple, really: in order to "get out... the rascals", one must provide 'the other side'; too many such 'other sides' and "the rascals" in government find it comparatively easier to remain in power. This is the very underpinning of the American (so called) Two-Party System (and also explains why so-called 'Third Parties' and independent candidacies [outside of, perhaps, winning elections of smaller scale (say, those for seats in a State Legislature or on a municipal Council, Mayor of a small town, etc.)] so rarely succeed [other than, yes, the occasional Governor, United States Senator, or Member(s) of Congress, more usually a self-described 'Independent' than a card-carrying member of a Third Party nowadays]): there is in America, in reality, ever a Governing Party (which might also include a minority of more usual supporters of the actual Major Party out of power) and an (key word there: an) Opposition Party (which may well also include at least some elements of the Major Party actually in power)...

a large aggregation of political and other groupings now in power can only be electorally toppled by an equally (more or less) large (singular!) aggregation of political and other groupings jointly opposed to those in power: if, instead, the opposition be divided amongst- if not even also against- themselves, the governmental status quo stays in place...

only two parties, then: those who are In, and those who are Out. The challenge, then, for the Democratic Party now is how best to, once again, try and once again become (or, at least, become the leading force within) the "In crowd" as a result of the 2018 Midterm Elections, the 2020 Presidential Election, and/or beyond while, at the same time, healing the rift that was so apparent during that Party's presidential nomination campaign...

again: stay tuned!


Hey, these guys aren't dictators!--
often said by my late friend STEVE PERRY during many a political discussion since I first met him while in Boston during the mid-1970s


In the main, it will be the "In crowd" that will, however, prove to be the more interesting (at least until after the 2018 Midterms, and depending on just how those Midterms happen to go): for the relationships of the Republicans- both within, and without, Congress; amongst themselves, as well as with President Trump- will be the most telling as "political tea leaves" here in America for the duration.

In the second of two quotes from Herbert Agar seen above, Agar noted that what he called "a tolerable compromise" derived from national consensus means that the compromise labelled "Democratic" will not be widely different from that labelled "Republican". Yet, as a result of the 2016 Elections, such an 'Agarian' (if you will) "tolerable compromise" seems- right now- to be well 'out of sync' with either of the two "Populisms" (the 'Trumpian' and the now-'post-Sandersian' described earlier in this piece); put another way: just about the last thing either a "Make America Great"-er or a "Bernie Bro'" would want, as we go on through 2017, is something in which what either of these might now put forth politically at all resembles the status quo represented (to them) by the two Major Parties.

As already stated, the Democrats (in total opposition, as regards the Federal Government) fight among themselves over this outside of the corridors of power (which, again as already stated, is to that Party's own benefit for the time being); rather, it is the Grand Old Party that has to, likewise, fight among themselves in the fullest glare of, at the same time, governing ("Be careful what you wish for!...")

Already, even before Donald Trump has even taken office, we have witnessed an attempt, by some on the GOP side of the congressional aisle, to "gut like a fish" the Office of Government Ethics, only to then- seemingly within mere minutes (but, in reality, it was at least a few hours come the same morning the 115th Congress was about to be sworn!)- unceremoniously back down: yet, a mere ten days later, the Republican Chair of the House Oversight Committee appeared to want to do the "gutting" almost single-handedly by politically knocking OGE Director Walter Schaub into the hall lockers whilst kicking his books down the hall, simply because Schaub questioned the efficacy of the new President's publicly announced plan to avoid Conflict of Interest while in office (in short: Schaub was being "called out" primarily because he was actually doing his job).

Fact is: at the very least, President Trump will be in immediate violation of the provision of the United States Constitution's Article I, Section 9, clause 8 which reads that no person holding any office of profit or trust under them shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state before the echoes across the National Mall from his having taken the Presidential Oath tomorrow will have fully died out: his overseas holdings, let alone the use- by foreign governments- of his properties here in the United States pretty much guarantee this kind of Conflict of Interest (if only because we don't yet know, as a matter of public record, just which Trump holdings- both domestic and foreign- derive potential gain or profit from an interest in said holdings by foreign powers or their representatives).

Complaint has been made, by those most defending of President Trump in this regard, that critics of the methodologies through which Trump apparently intends to "divorce" himself from his own business ventures (as so publicly announced recently) are applying the constitutional term "emolument" much too broadly. But 'emolument' itself is a broad word (English dictionaries in my possession define it as "any kind of gain or profit from employment or position")-- in truth, "emolument" is something of a 'catch-all' one purposely utilized by the Framers met in Convention in Philadelphia back in 1787 because, in no small part, of their incessant fear that a President, or one of his agents, might be too strongly tempted to exercise his (as already noted above) extensive Executive Power- here, in Foreign Relations- to enrich himself (and, through doing so, perhaps thereafter also make the United States "hostage" to one or more foreign powers as a result [thereby also tying the hands of his successors in the Presidency]).

Yes, Congress could always grant the constitutionally-allowed waiver by statute but, come Noon tomorrow, just who would be signing into Law such a waiver? At the very least, the 'optics' alone are bad.

Meanwhile, we have this so-called "dossier" (the term- while widely utilized in the public sphere- is here being misused, by the way) on ties between Russia and either Trump himself and/or his campaign-become-transition team, one that apparently also contains at least some items that might well be fairly described as salacious, though I myself have not read any of the details (which have since been leaked into the Media and onto the Internet) and, frankly, have no real interest in doing so (as it would have nothing at all to add to my own analyses of the current political situation here in the United States). I also have no way of knowing, as I now type this, how much of the (non-salacious: for I care not one wit about the salacious) stuff therein might even be true: nonetheless, there are non-Russian intelligence organizations (and not all of them in countries friendly with the United States) over much of the globe, all now seemingly trying to find out...

the very notion that there might even be the smallest kernel of truth in any of this, in and of itself, is potentially (a potential that evaporates if all happens to be untrue) politically unseemly!

Trump and his Administration continue to ignore all this- and, thereby, also fail to soon enough correct it- at their own political peril; in any event, the Transition-becoming-Administration has been quite unable to fully get in front of these stories now going into the Inauguration itself. Yet the most important thing to watch for, at this point, is what the Republicans (or, at least, some Republicans) outside the new Trump Administration might (or, for that matter, might not) do about any, let alone all, of this over the earlier course of the new Administration (the Democrats, as the closest thing to a parliamentary 'Loyal Opposition' within the American system, can certainly make lots of noise in this regard, but- at least for the next two years [pending the 2018 Midterms]- with little practical, put aside direct, effect on either the Administration or a majority of either house of Congress)...

but, unless and until Republicans in and out of Congress might do so, so much for any serious dealing with such things as partisan polarization and political gridlock (let alone a little thing *I* like to call 'Governmental Ethics') within the halls of Federal Government in the District of Columbia!


Every act of my Administration has been tortured; and that, too, in such exaggerated and indecent terms as could scarcely be applied to a Nero, a notorious defaulter, or a common pickpocket--
President GEORGE WASHINGTON, privately reacting to attacks upon his policies- as well as he himself- in the opposition 'Jeffersonian Republican' press during his second term in office.


One of the major concerns of Donald Trump's new Administration, as he is about to take office, appears to be in regard to Trump's own "legitimacy" as President of the United States. Despite recent pontifications by Russian President Vladimir Putin: no, such "legitimacy" is not either the cause or the effect of what Putin himself described as "an acute political struggle" within the United States Government; for Mr. Trump will be sworn in as (and, as already noted above, at Noon tomorrow automatically becomes, in any event) President as scheduled while the Constitution of the United States continues to operate apace (though this may well be a nuance of American governance that Putin, himself head of what political scientists define as an 'Electoral Authoritarian' regime, simply fails to at all credit).

'Legitimacy' here has two distinct meanings: the first (and, truth be told, the more important in terms of the exercise of that Executive Power already described above) involves the mere legality of a President's election, and this is simply dealt with by noting how many Electoral Votes a presidential candidate might have received: currently, if a candidate has gained the votes of at least 270 (a majority of the total 538) Presidential Electors- as duly counted and tabulated before a Joint Session of the Congress of the United States- the President is, constitutionally, elected (and Congress declares him as such, as was done on behalf of Mr. Trump this past 6 January). Once so elected, said President is legitimate-- in the purely legal, constitutional, sense: the Executive Power devolves upon him without question.

But the term 'legitimacy' also has a second, political definition: one based on the apparent willingness (or not) of the American People to accept their President as leader of the Nation, regardless of whether or not they might have actually voted for him...

it is this latter meaning that seems to have Donald Trump, and those within his Administration (as well as those outside that Administration, in Congress or no, who do- at least at the start of his Presidency- so strongly support him), rather "in a lather" about how he is to now be perceived "out there".

Hence the many vehement responses (whether via Twitter or not) from these to the citing of the fact that more of the electorate back on 8 November voted for Hillary Clinton than he (which is, in fact, a fact: Deal with it! For it means nothing, constitutionally) or even to public discussions (in and out of Media) about what might actually be the Trump Administration's own relationship with Russia (and its concomitant impact upon NATO-- or, for that matter, the Middle East-- or future response to any further Russian meddling in American politics and elections or Ukraine, etc. etc.).

But such vehemence itself only serves to, if only (at least so far!) potentially as well as eventually, undermine Donald Trump's legitimacy as President: for legitimacy in this second, political sense has to be earned and American History is replete with examples of Presidents who themselves lost such 'legitimacy' (often as not, by trying much too hard to ever defend that which might otherwise be seen as illegitimate in terms of policy and/or practice, instead of just solving the problem[s] created by such a negative political image)...

simply put: it is the President's own responsibility to maintain the legitimacy (again, in the political sense) of his own Administration. In order to so remain legitimate, the President and his Administration must themselves be legitimate, for the ideal of National Unity itself engenders from the White House-- not the other way round!

Besides the horizontal Checks and Balances already noted above (Legislative=popular Accountability vs. Executive=Administration of the State vs. Judicial=application of Rule of Law), there are also vertical Checks and Balances-- not just those that are merely constitutional (the relationship of the Governments of the constituent States of the American Union [and, by extension, the governance of their own respective local Civil Divisions and Municipalities created by said States] to the Federal Government) but also those that are political in nature: meaning, how the American People themselves, as individuals as well as collectively, see their own leaders (a view that can, so easily, change [in either the positive, or negative, direction] over time)...

expecting the People themselves to unify behind a President on their own (that is: the People coming to him, rather than he to the People, in this regard) implies that those who do not do so are themselves engaging in purposeful disunity (when, instead, they might just have a political grievance for which they might, as is their own constitutional Right, seek redress [successfully or not]): and a President acting upon just such an implication over the longer course more usually doesn't turn out all that well for just such a President (see, for instance, the entries Watergate or Nixon, Richard M. in any good encyclopedia of American History).

Every American President- even, as the quote that heads this section of this piece itself shows, George Washington himself- has, whether rightly or wrongly, gotten "flak" from the populace and the press. This, in fact, is the very nature of Politics in Free Society: however, it is ever up to the President, no matter said "flak", to maintain his best possible relations with at least the "bell curve" of the electorate and their duly elected representatives (even where-- nay, especially where-- there might yet be serious disagreement).

I myself not only lived through the aforementioned 'Watergate', I came of age during it: for I turned 18 years old- and, therefore, thanks to the then-still recently adopted 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was first eligible to vote- in early 1974: even as I cast my very first ballot in my own lifetime (in my State's Primaries in early June of that same year: in fact, I voted while on the way home from Final Exams [I would be graduating High School the following week]), Richard Nixon was still President of the United States.

During his final televised address to the American People that ensuing Summer, however, President Nixon was forced to admit that because of the Watergate matter, I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation will require and, therefore (as the interest of the Nation must always come before any personal consideration), he would resign as President the following day...

in a nutshell: President Nixon had lost his legitimacy (again, in the political sense)-- note well that he had lost it; no one else took it from him!

By the time I first went off to attend Boston University that Fall (let alone vote, for the first time but a couple months thereafter, in a General Election [the 1974 Midterms: in which I had to vote by absentee ballot]), Gerald Ford had already succeeded Nixon as President. The lesson here is plain: it is the President's responsibility- his duty alone- to maintain his own legitimacy (and that of his own Administration)...

so I would say to the new President (for that matter, any President): just be legitimate and the rest will take care of itself, regardless of any and all "flak". Do the illegitimate, however, and all bets will thereafter be off!

Not everyone will love a President, no matter what he does: part of his job, then, is to do his utmost to ever maintain the respect from as much of the American People as might be practicable at any given time-- even when many of those who might so respect him don't necessarily agree with him...

but the 'flip side' of this "coin of the realm" is for both he and his Administration to also not confuse (as seems to be the case with at least some of Trump's own supporters, judging from what I have already seen on the Internet as I now type this) any and all disagreement, or even dissatisfaction, with his Presidency as, somehow, ever being hatred of the President himself.

Thus, another important lesson, from the 'Watergate' era on this particular score, is that which outgoing President Nixon said on the morning of the day he actually resigned, as he was saying 'goodbye' one last time to the staff of the White House before leaving it:

Others may hate you-- but those who hate you don't win, unless you hate them: and then you destroy yourself.

To my own mind, this very quote was about as close to the truth of what had happened to both he and his Presidency as Richard Nixon himself would ever get.

Again, the President of the United States is America's "elected King"-- but he is not a 'King' who commands deference: rather, "deference" works in precisely the opposite direction-- for here, in the United States, the People rule and it is the American People that confers legitimacy (in that second, political sense) on any given President...

but that same American People can always withhold such legitimacy, as Richard Nixon himself found out when even many of those who had so strongly supported, and defended, him and his actions throughout almost all the 'Watergate era' ended up turning on him like proverbial "hungry junkyard dogs" once even they, too, had to- in the weeks and days leading up to his resignation from the Presidency- finally acknowledge he had, indeed, been "coming over the barbed-wire fence".

Admittedly, the American People (meaning: the national consensus of at least the "bell curve" of the electorate at any given time) are not, and will not be, always right in this regard: in which case, one should then simply remember the words of the late Senator Rudman, in that...


The American People have the constitutional Right to be wrong--
United States Senator WARREN RUDMAN [Republican of New Hampshire] to Lieutenant Colonel OLIVER NORTH, United States Marine Corps, during the latter's testimony on 13 July 1987 before the Joint Select Congressional Committee looking into the so-called 'Iran-Contra affair'.

 


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