Ours isn’t the democracy I thought it was

Among the many reasons to bemoan the Trump presidency is that it’s eroded faith in our system of government. Ours isn’t the democracy I thought it was.

From high school civics class on through five decades, I held to belief in the separation of powers — that our federal government has three equal branches keeping each other’s power in check.

Now, with what Trump has been able to do unchecked, our government seems more autocratic than democratic.

Trump ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, returning the DACA community to a cruel limbo.

The zero-tolerance tactics being carried out at our southern border are his doing, not written into law.

He has upended longstanding US global relations, praising dictators like Vladimir Putin and offending allies like Canada by imposing tariffs on them.

He pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He ordered missile strikes in Syria without Congressional authorization.

He has undone environmental regulations by executive order.

Also by executive order, he destabilized health insurance marketplaces by allowing people to buy insurance plans with lower premiums but fewer benefits.

I’m sure there are many more unilateral actions that people who pay close attention could mention.

It’s not that Trump has acted illegally in all cases. The presidency has grown to be much more powerful than what the founding fathers laid out in the Constitution in 1787. Previous presidents made war without congressional declarations of war. President Obama issued executive orders when he lost hope of getting legislation passed by an obstructionist Congress.

The chilling difference today is the occupant of the office. When presidents of either party were rational, decent human beings, it didn’t strike me that in the third century of the American experiment, we don’t really have three equal branches of government. 

But when the president is a scoundrel; and Congress is a dysfunctional institution led by Republicans who are afraid to oppose him; and the judiciary is heard from only sporadically, the power of the president is scary. Our country is being driven by a single man who is guided not by what’s good for all of us but by his own prejudices, self-interest, and meanness.

When I used to hear that this country or that succumbed to tyranny, I always felt smugly confident that it couldn’t happen here. Now I’m not so sure.

Some fear that Trump will permanently hurt our democracy. More optimistic folks believe that the situation will be corrected when a rational, principled person occupies the White House.

But that brings up another realization: that there’s no stability when the next president seeks to radically reverse the policies of his predecessor, as Trump has done. Uninsured Americans thought they were finally able to secure health insurance when the Affordable Care Action was passed — but then Trump tried, and still tries, to undo ACA. Other countries think that they have our word when a president enters into a treaty with them, but how can they be sure the next president will abide by it? Is this any way to run a country?

Back in civics class we were told how brilliant the American system is, the wisest and best ever devised. It doesn’t look brilliant anymore. That’s a very disillusioning observation. 



"I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart."

— Former First Lady Laura Bush

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