The reason behind US political division

By Jin Canrong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/10 16:43:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The very idea of "checks and balances" has long been a cornerstone of the US political system. In the eyes of American political elites, checks and balances are where the superiority and advantage of their democratic politics lies. However, many problems have recently emerged within the US domestic politics.

As US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others were seeking Senate approval as well, after the Democratic majority-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution abolishing the state of emergency. Trump, however, said he would not hesitate to veto the resolution.

From the "state of emergency" announcement to successive "vetoes," many US lawmakers believe the government is depriving Congress of its Constitutional powers. Democrats have argued the Trump administration has undermined the "checks and balances" principle, calling on lawmakers to uphold the Constitution. 

So, what are the problems facing the US political system known for its "checks and balances?" Do these problems stem from the original purpose behind the establishment of the US political system?

Many may believe "checks and balances" are an equilateral triangle composed of three entities, the executive, legislature and judiciary. Each branch performs its duties respectively, and operates independently without the interference from one another, thus ensuring justice and democracy. The reality is that "checks and balances" are more like three overlapping circles, squeezing each other to expand their power.

A century after the founding of the federal government, political struggles mainly occurred within Congress, where most of the struggles were between state and federal power. In the 20th century, the federal government power (especially the executive power) further expanded. Since the end of WWII, the executive branch has occupied a stronger position.

US and European scholars have long pointed out how the US political system is not designed for democracy. Democracy is meant to be a system determined by the will of the majority, but the purpose of the framers of the US Constitution to build such a political system was to avoid the "tyranny of the majority." 

To this end, the US "fathers of the state" designed a system of checks and balances. Later, a two-party system emerged. Today, it has evolved into a "veto regime" where national politics is controlled by the elites, not the people.

The unprecedented political polarization in the US has led to a marked decline in the quality of political process.

Below are some factors related to the problem:

Above all, the economic bedrock of the country has been undermined, which is to say, its economic competitiveness has been in relative decline. Factors underlying this situation involve the overdeveloped US financial industry, which has caused an industrial migration. Financial players have reaped huge rewards from this process, leaving many middle-class families in other industries entirely gutted. The financial crisis of 2008 was the final blow for this accumulating problem. 

With an incomplete industrial chain, US technological innovation has been severely affected for lack of industrial support. In contrast, technological innovation in emerging economies is developing rapidly.

Second, the US internal social structure has undergone tremendous changes. In recent years, while its ethnic minority population has been growing at a faster speed than the white population and the number of ethnic minorities attending prestigious universities and working in high-end industries is rising, white Americans feel this is a challenge and a growing threat. Therefore, conflicts between white right-wing groups and ethnic minorities in the US have increased.

Third, US contradictions have increased. In addition to the conflicts mentioned above, the contradictions between American elites and populists, between economic globalists and nativists, between virtual economy and the real economy, between left wing and right wing continue to rise.

Strong mainstream public opinion is an essential foundation and guarantee of democracy, without which there may arise social fragmentation.

Nowadays, under the "checks and balances," the two-party system has failed to promote a mainstream consensus. On the contrary, competition among political parties has driven social fragmentation to its extreme. 

In short, political parties give priority to partisan interests, instead of seeking the greater interests of people and promoting mainstream consensus, which has dramatically reduced the efficiency of US political operations under "checks and balances."

Democracy is an idea and an approach. The essence of governance lies in serving the people through development while bringing them increased benefits and rights. Therefore, only through consultation and compromise in politics can the government achieve mainstream consensus and improve decision-making.

The author is associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China. 

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