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America’s parliamentary oligarchy and the sleeping giant of States’rights

US Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) applaud as US President Donald J. Trump (C) arrives to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo - RTS10VFR

On the whole, countries with strong presidential systems tend to see the births and deaths of fewer parties than in countries with parliamentary systems. Take for example Russia whose strong presidential system presides over a State Duma with four main parties (United Russia, Communist Party of the Russian Federation, LDPR and Fair Russia). Even as the platforms of America’s two main parties have evolved over the years, since the time of the American Civil War, the Republican and Democratic parties have been the two main political forces with would-be dark horse third parties rarely having long term staying power.

By contrast, in Italy, parliament rules the day. This has generally led to governments whose lifespan is often short with new parties coming and going almost as fast (and sometimes faster) as the governments themselves.

The United States is a long way off from Italy, but changes seem to be occurring even as the Constitution remains unchanged.  For all the mainstream media bluster about Donald Trump being a strong, autocratic style Presidential candidate, his time in the White House has been all too parliamentary.

Congress continues to defy his word over Obamacare and in respect of the Russian sanctions, both Houses of Congress voted almost unanimously to vitriolically sanction Russia, just weeks after Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin and engaged in what might have been the baby-steps of a young detente that Congress has strangled in the cradle.

Congress has shown its ability to defy POTUS Trump on foreign policy issues like Russia-US relations, constitutional issues like the legality of legislative rather than executive sanctions and what’s more is that his own party has not strongly backed him on his flagship domestic policy of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

To an outsider unfamiliar with American history, one might be tempted to say that America is a parliamentary system with a President who acts  in an advisory position that is more often than not, totally ignored.

This brings one from the international issue of parliamentary versus presidential systems to a quintessentially American issue of States’ rights. The American Civil War was fought over just this issue and ever since the Confederate States lost to the Union, the federal government has continued to grow with only brief periods of retraction which have all proved to be temporary.

Many of the same people who have argued for States’ rights have also argued for a stronger Congress vis-a-vis a so-called ‘imperial presidency’. This may not be the case any longer.

The history changing Trump phenomenon has combined many of the policies typically held by post-Civil Rights Act States’ rights advocates with a penchant for the trappings of an imperial presidency.  Since the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, the cause of States’ rights has been less about racial discrimination laws than it has been about the following:

–low taxation

–social conservative legislation and regulation

–a position that resists restrains on the Second Amendment (right to bear arms)

–opposition to government spending

–opposition to Federal involvement in education, health, social policy, privacy issues and local infrastructure.

These positions which have become associated with the conservative wing of the grass roots sector of the Republican party, help explain why since the race issue in America was settled (from a legal perspective) in the 1960s, the Democrats and Republicans have flip-flopped their traditional positions on States’ rights which date back to the Civil War.

Today, States’ rights advocates are more likely to be Republicans as the issues that States’ rights advocates care most about in the last several decades have become mainstay conservative Republican issues.

The issues named above which tend to be important priorities for States’ rights Republicans were all issues on which Donald Trump campaigned strongly. This is true in spite of the fact that Donald Trump talked less about States’ rights and about curtailing the size of the federal government than any Republican candidate since Eisenhower.

This is why, in true parliamentary fashion, Donald Trump should seriously consider starting a new political party prior to the 2018 midterm elections. This party would almost certainly include some current Republicans but it would also include many independent Trump supporters and libertarians as well as some so-called paleoconservatives.

Since Donald Trump cannot seem to attain support from the US Congress which behaves increasingly not just like a parliament but like a parliamentary oligarchy that is deeply out of touch with local and regional issues, Trump ought to turn to where he has support: the States, which in any case are closes to the Republican party’s grassroots than to the Washington elites.

If Trump created a new party which emphasised States’ rights, he could go a long way to curtailing the arrogance of the current Congress while accomplishing many of his stated policy goals. After all, programs like Obamacare is totally inconsistent with states rights, and historically speaking so too as an expensive and aggressive foreign policy.

If Trump built a new party around States’ rights and got such individuals elected to the US Congress, one might find that Trump could get what he wants in a far easier manner than in trying to force the executives hand on a Congress that rules the country like a kind of supreme soviet.

The plan would take a lot of hard work and of course money, but most of all it would require imagination and it would require elevating many of the Trump supporters from Maine to the conservative counties of California (which outside of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area are surprisingly strong) to the position of Congressional candidate.

Trump in other words, would need to rely on his base to become a new elite. The risk is clearly worthwhile as the old elite continue to fail Trump and the wider world.

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