How it has taken a political novice in the White House only a year and a half to hollow out the centuries-old system of the U.S. separation of powers.
Ever since the days of Alexis de Tocqueville, citizens of the Western world have viewed the political order of the United States as a finely balanced, liberal society of free individuals. Unless a miracle happens, they may have to say goodbye to that heroic image.
Within just one and a half years, a complete political novice has succeeded in unhitching the established U.S. political system in a way that was previously considered impossible. He has made mincemeat of the fabled “checks and balances” that were purported to be so strong that no person could manage to take unfettered control of the massive power apparatus of the United States.
U.S. Republicans: Like Erdogan’s AKP members in Turkey
That this has become possible is, to a considerable extent, a consequence of the meekness and political ineffectiveness of the Democrats.
But it is the complete spinelessness of the Republican Party that ultimately allows Trump to dislodge most checks and balances.
Republicans are not just supportive of Trump’s constant, despicable Orwellian refrain of the media as “fake news.” What is most stunning is that, with very few exceptions, they have turned themselves into Trump’s willing henchmen. As a group, they act in the same blind followership manner as the MPs of the AK Party follow Erdogan’s each and every whim in Turkey.
But the really frightening statement in this context is that Recep Tayyip Erdogan at least boxed through a constitutional referendum. That way, he can argue that he obtained his new unlimited power in a transparent, formally legal manner.
Trump just a blip?
Trump did not make that effort – and, much worse, did not even have to do it. He and his enforcers are simply ab/using the structures and procedures that have existed in the United States for a long time, in a manner previously deemed unimaginable.
Given all of Trump’s transgressions and potential criminal charges, there are those who expect him to disappear from the political scene before long. That may indeed be so. However, these voices tend to underestimate the amount of damage Trump has already created to the U.S. political system.
U.S. Republicans: Like the PiS party in Kaczynski’s Poland
Especially through the careful selection of very conservative judicial candidates, Trump and his team have already enshrined a reactionary social policy for decades. What is happening right now in the United States is very similar to what the PiS party is doing in Kaczynski’s Poland.
With one big difference: In Poland, laws had to be altered in a dubious manner to achieve the desired outcome. Trump could simply rely on exploiting established political procedures to their logical if distasteful maximum.
For all the present attention on the Kavanaugh nomination, a U.S. president cannot just appoint Supreme Court justices for life. The same applies to federal judges serving throughout the nation. Trump is fortunate that he took office at a time when there was an enormous backlog on nominations to be made.
That this has enormous effects is also due to the fact that judges on higher courts in the United States often operate in a very political fashion, although they would always claim the opposite.
Ensuring a reactionary social policy for decades
In addition, under Trump, the selection process for the judiciary is politicized to an unprecedented degree. The arch-conservatives in the Republican Party know of the historic opportunity to remake the United States and they are determined to make the most of it.
Given the lifetime length of service of all those judges, this gives Republicans the opportunity to shape U.S. social policy for at least three decades. For that reason alone, it is already clear that it will take up to 30 years to overcome the dark shadows of the Trump presidency.
Which is why the White House staff selecting these judges is bound to have a transformational effect on the future of the United States. Other elements of Trump’s rule, largely by executive order, could be unwound by future U.S. presidents (and their executive orders).
And even the damage done by Trump by stunting the EPA and departing from the Paris Accord could be repaired, even if it will be hard and will take time. But it’s unlikely to take three decades.
As to the immense stress test which Trump represents for the U.S. political and constitutional order, none is more shocking – and reflective of immense weaknesses of the U.S. system – than the fact that the Republicans’ power at the federal level runs counter to the very idea of a mature democracy.
***Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, the daily online magazine on the global economy, politics and culture, which he founded and launched in January 2000. He also is the President of The Globalist Research Center, the online thinktank — as well as the creator of The Globalist Quiz, a weekly feature exploring the global agenda in an innovative fashion that is syndicated to newspapers around the world. Mr. Richter is a frequent guest on leading radio and television programs, including CNN, PBS Newshour, Germany’s ARD and ZDF and National Public Radio.
A sought after and thought-provoking keynote speaker at executive conferences and retreats, he has moderated more than 150 policy events during his time in Washington, D.C., featuring prime ministers, CEOs, Nobel laureates and heads of international organizations. His articles and views have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Salon, Le Monde, Les Echos, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Handelsblatt, Manager Magazin, Cicero, NZZ and Foreign Affairs.
For the past ten years, he was the presenter of the Marketplace Globalist Quiz, aired on public radio stations all across the United States as part of NPR’s Morning Report. From 2002-08, he was a monthly columnist for Les Echos, the leading financial daily in France. He was also the U.S. correspondent for Rheinischer Merkur from 1990-98, as well as a monthly columnist for CEO Magazine.
In addition, he has been a keynote speaker on geopolitical and geoeconomic issues and trends at major international conferences organized by asset managers, investment banks and public policy institutions in Europe, the United States and Asia.
Prior to starting The Globalist, Mr. Richter led a global strategic communications firm based in Washington, D.C., advising ministers and CEOs of governments, leading global banks and corporations, international organizations and foundations around the world.
In that capacity, he served as North American advisor to the German Economics Ministry and Vice Chancellor in the early 1990s, when he successfully shaped the “New Federal States” campaign, designed to create a dynamic brand image for the former Communist East Germany.
In the fall of 1990, at the request of the U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, he drafted the Sense of the U.S. Senate resolution calling for forgiveness of Poland’s Communist-era public debt. It proved a crucial step in the successful conclusion of the April 1991 Debt Agreement in the Paris Club.
For those activities, he was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit by the President of Poland in June 2014, as part of the country’s celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the arrival of freedom.
Mr. Richter received his J.D. from the University of Bonn, Germany in 1984, was a Rotary Foundation Award recipient in 1980-81 and a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association in 1986-87.
His 1992 book, Clinton: What Europe and the United States Can Expect, correctly forecast the Clinton Administration’s emphasis on fiscal consolidation in U.S. public accounts.
In 2013, he was the co-editor of the book, In Search of a Sustainable Future: Reflections on Economic Growth, Social Equity and Global Governance.