Ungovernable, Thank God

08/22/2017 06:14 pm ET Updated Aug 22, 2017

The United States has become increasingly ungovernable. Thank God. Because when you have a megalomaniacal president, ungovernability is a blessing.

The U.S. system was designed to be difficult to govern. The framers of the Constitution had just waged a revolution against a king. To them, strong government meant despotism. The Constitution replaced an earlier document, the Articles of Confederation, which created a government so weak it was unworkable.

The Founders set up a complex and ungainly system, with two houses of Congress, three branches of government and competing centers of power in the federal government and the states. The idea was to limit power. The result is a constitutional system that works exactly as intended. Which is to say, it doesn't usually work very well at all.

As President after President has discovered, there are innumerable ways opponents can stop things from getting done, even if the President's party holds a majority in Congress. Look at what happened to President Clinton's health care plan in 1994, when Democrats controlled Congress. And to President Trump's health care plan this year, with Republicans in charge.

Deep polarization between Republicans and Democrats has produced gridlock. In a parliamentary system like that of Britain, gridlock is unconstitutional. A core principle of the British constitution is, ``Her majesty's government must be carried on.'' If the government is gridlocked and cannot act, it falls and new elections are held until the people elect a government that can act decisively. The United States has no queen. There is no constitutional necessity for the government to rule decisively. And it often can't, to the consternation of many voters.

Now we have a president with the temperament of a megalomaniac. The signs are unmistakable. In July, when journalist Joshua Green published a best-selling book calling Steve Bannon the chief architect of Trump's election victory (``Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency''), President Trump was clearly annoyed that Bannon was being given too much credit. The President tweeted, ``I love reading about all the `geniuses' who were so instrumental in my election success. Problem is, most don't exist.'' A month later, Bannon was out.

The most alarming sign of megalomania occurred at the televised Cabinet meeting on June 12 when Trump called on each cabinet member, one by one, to lavish praise on the president. Like this from his chief of staff at the time: ``Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people.'' It was a moment worthy of North Korea's ``Dear Leader'' Kim Jong-un. President Trump joined in the self-adulation, saying, ``Never has there been a president . . . with few exceptions . . . who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than I have.''

At the time, Trump had no major legislative accomplishments. He still doesn't, other than the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Trump is a divider. He follows four Presidents in a row who got elected on a pledge to unite the country. They all failed. Trump never even attempted to define himself as a healer. He got elected by exploiting the nation's division. In a divided country, the constitutional system of checks and balances and separation of powers kicks into place. In a polarized environment where compromise is impossible, we get gridlock. Very little gets done even though a president's first six months in office are typically a honeymoon period when a president achieves his greatest successes.

After seven months, Trump's proposals for infrastructure spending, tax reform and a border wall with Mexico have not gotten anywhere. With polls showing the public highly skeptical of the prospects for ``victory'' in Afghanistan, he may face resistance to increasing the U.S. military commitment. After all, Trump got elected on an isolationist platform. In November 2013, he tweeted, ``We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let's get out!''

Trump rose in defiance of the political establishment. The political establishment is now abandoning him. He does still have the loyalty of his populist army. They admire and celebrate his defiance of the establishment. However, some populists may see betrayal in the president's flip-flop on Afghanistan. They're the working class Americans who always make the greatest sacrifices in times of war.

Trump's plans have been thwarted by Congress (the repeal of Obamacare), the federal courts (the travel ban) and hostile state governments (climate change). The system of checks and balances is working exactly as intended. It was intended to protect us from tyrants and megalomaniacs. Fortunately, it still does.

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