The structural transformation of the American system

Text by LUIS FLEISCHMAN, picture:  ISTOCK BY GETTYIMAGES

The presidency of Donald Trump has renewed rare debates in American politics about the future of democracy, the constitutional state, and other elements of our country that we have been taking for granted for a long, long time.

However, several important developments in the last few decades in American politics that have transformed the historical and traditional character of the American system and practice of government before Trump.

3 elements that have undermined the system
There are three elements that have undermined the system. The first is the deterioration of the legislative power as an arena of compromises and deliberation. The second is the change in the traditional features of American political parties, and the third is the increasing power of executive decision-making. These three dimensions are interrelated.

Congress is supposed to be one of the key components in the division of powers. The division of powers is a mechanism of limitation of absolute power. Congress is also supposed to bring societal representation in the decision-making process. Congress is supposed to establish closeness between local interests and concerns and the representative and so to enable the people to bring to the table issues that affect the citizen in a direct way.

The other role of Congress is allow deliberation of different points of views. Deliberation and compromise are vital and necessary factors in maintaining the legitimacy and functioning of the system. Thus, the American party system historically evolved in a different way than the one in Europe. Party discipline was practically nonexistent. Members of Congress established a relationship with constituencies. Party leadership and party guidance were relatively unimportant.

Congressional polarization
However, since the early 1990’s American political parties began to behave as parliamentary parties where parties vote in a block, and members of the party are subjected to party discipline.

The Republican Party unanimously blocked former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s economic and healthcare plans. Starting in 1995 House Speaker Newt Gingrich introduced the “Contract of America” as a revolutionary project supposedly supported by the Republican Party as a whole.

Congressional polarization began to evolve.

The Clinton Impeachment reflected the intensity of this polarization. Likewise, after former Republican President George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion found itself in a quagmire, Democrats saw an opportunity to attack the Republicans politically, to gain political points, and recover the three branches of government. During the presidency of Barack Obama, Republicans obstructed legislative initiatives increasing a polarization that eventually gave birth to Donald Trump.

A strong executive branch
The legislative crisis has also given birth to a strong executive branch. An increased decision-making process based on executive prerogatives characterizes the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

Many of the Bush administration’s post-September 11 domestic strategies challenged the role of the federal and administrative courts in restraining executive action…

Lue SAM Magazine 3/2020 julkaistu Luis Fleischmanin artikkeli kokonaisuudessaan klikkaamalla tästä (pdf).