Monday, 10 April 2017
US Constituion stymies Trump
The thoughts behind this post were formulated before President Trump's volte face in foreign policy and his illegal bombing of Syria. Whether this is the start of a changed and consistent foreign policy, a caprice or a temper-tantrum remains to be seen. The situation is so complex that I have no firm views on the tactics the international community should be following, but I deeply regret that we do not have a strategy which enables the "great powers" to work together to stop armaments reaching this desperate country, even if they are incapable of brokering a peace.
However, on the (US) domestic front it does seem that the American Constitution is sufficiently robust to prevent the wildest excesses of Trump's campaign rhetoric from being put into practice. I believe this is because the US Constitution has an effective and functional separation of the powers of government: the executive, the legislature and the judicature.
So we have seen Trump's illogical banning of entry to the US of citizens of seven largely Muslim countries blocked, twice now, by the judiciary, and his threat to abolish Obamacare blocked by congress.
I suppose it is nothing to do with the Constitution, but I do also admire the courage of the Deputy Director of the US National Security Agency in dismissing Trump's claim that President Obama had asked the UK's CCHQ to "wire-tap" the Trump campaign as "errant nonsense." I cannot imagine and British civil servant standing up to the Prime Minister in this manner.
Sadly the concept of the separation of powers is hardly apparent in the British Constitution. The executive (government) has by definition control of the legislature - it is formed by the political grouping which "commands the confidence of the majority in the House of Commons." The party whips are so powerful and our MPs so supine that we have in effect an "elective dictatorship," - the government can do more or less what it likes for five years and is then answerable to the electorate. So we have seen Mrs May's s erroneous policies, not just for Brexit but for "hard" Brexit, believed to be mistaken by the majority of MPs, railroaded through parliament.
Our judiciary remains reasonably independent, and, in defiance of being labelled "enemies of the people" by the government's chief supporting newspaper, forced the government, twice, to give Parliament a say in the triggering of Article 50. Unfortunately MPs didn't have the guts to take advantage of the power they clearly hold.
Given that the resources and energies of our political class are to be entirely devoted to the minutiae of Brexit for the next two years (and possibly longer) there is little hope of any serious attention being given to constitutional affairs. Yet, if nothing else, the Brexit débacle demonstrates that our constitution is no longer fit for purpose and needs root and branch reform.