Power to the People?

As Americans hold our collective breath watching an increasingly deranged Chief Executive (did you see that Cabinet meeting?), political scientists ponder the short- and long-term consequences of this unprecedented Presidency. How much damage will he do, and how long will it last?

Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution has a recent article speculating on what happens next: she describes the possibilities as 1)Trump learning and his presidency becoming more normal or at least adapting to what she delicately terms his “impulsiveness;” 2) the chaos continuing and power moving away from the presidency as a result; or 3) Trump being forced to leave office.

I suppose the good news is that any of these scenarios spells doom for Dick Cheney’s wet dream of a “unitary executive.”

If I were a gambling woman, I’d put my money on #2. The chaos will continue, and the federal government–at least the Executive Branch– will no longer be the center of domestic or international policy. Power abhors a vacuum.

As Kamarck writes,

The second model involves little learning and no adaptation. This is a model for continuing chaos, with the likely result that power will begin to drain from the White House towards other centers. For instance, power can move from the White House to the states and to the private sector. In the area of climate change, California Governor Jerry Brown has already stepped into a leadership role. It is likely that governors and corporate leaders may begin to take action regardless of what the White House thinks. Power can also move to Congress where possibilities for a limited tax bill and some infrastructure spending can move more or less without White House leadership. And internationally, power can move to the heads of Germany and France in Europe and also to China, as the United States pulls back from the world or offers leadership that is too unstable to count on. It’s unclear whether turning the presidency into a sideshow would be permanent or not. But continuing chaos from a Trump presidency could do it at least temporarily.

During the turbulent Sixties, “Power to the People” was a popular slogan, but the scenario painted in Kamarck’s second model is hardly benign. Despite Americans’ longstanding distrust of central authority, numerous aspects of our national life require a measure of uniformity if we are to remain the United States.

In normal times, we would expect Congress to step in to fill the power vacuum. That would certainly be the best-case scenario–if we had a functioning legislative branch. But we don’t. One result of the Republicans’ exceedingly thorough 2011 gerrymander was the election of what has appropriately been dubbed the “lunatic caucus,” reactionary ideologues and culture warriors uninterested in the nitty-gritty details of governance and unacquainted with the concepts of pluralism or the common good. They are “led”–to the limited extent they are tractable–by men who have elevated party over country and power over the rule of law.

Devolving power to the states can help to ameliorate some of the immediate damage being done to American institutions, but the only real solution I see is a “wave” election in 2018 that gives us a Democratic Congress capable of containing Trumpism.

The 64 Thousand Dollar Question is whether the Democrats can get their act together, recruit responsible and attractive candidates, and forgo their usual intra-party fratricide.

The whole world is watching….


  1. #2, for all the reasons you give, plus the fact that the 2011 gerrymander may have been the last redistricting we ever have.
    With apologies to Lord Acton: “Power is not relinquished easily, and absolute power never is ::
    it has to be seized from those who hold it.”

  2. The numerous states with Tea Party legislatures may actually be less rationale than the US Congress and seem capable of worse damage than Congress

  3. #2, but not for the good of the country. It will be to have something to sell as reason for (selfish interest) re- election.

  4. Your $64,000 question may be the most important issue for discussion now and in the immediate future. I was a Bernie supporter and am now a participant in some MoveOn activities when I can, but I am extremely nervous about a candidate like Bernie or Senator Warren being electable in our current political environment…charged as it is. It is an unfortunate reality, but we will need every single vote in a district like my 5th to unseat even a weak incumbent.

  5. The overriding issue is not the House, but the Senate which has 23 “D” seats up in ’18, including Joe Donnelly. If the far left branch of the party can’t recognize that Democrats can’t win without supporting moderate candidates, we may well end up with a Senate that is 60-40. The chance of winning the House is a long-short at best. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but there is absolutely no indication that the right/center is giving up on Trump. The center will only vote for a candidate who is moderate on most issues with the exception of health care. (Sadly, the best thing for Demos would be the passage of the AHCA, but terrible for the country.) As, Dems we love to be indignant and are loath to compromise. Hence, the vitriol Dems have for Donnelly who is threading a very small needle. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m very very troubled by this.

  6. Remember the Koch bros said if they can control states, it doesn’t matter who’s in the White House.

  7. It’s a five-step process:. 1. Democrats take the House in 2018; 2. Trump is impeached in 2019; 3. Democrats win the House and the presidency in 2020, as well as numerous state legislatures; 4. Democrats redraw Congressional and numerous state legislative lines; and 5. Republicans regain their sanity, Democrats run off the rails and the cycle starts all over again.

  8. Jay Sekulow repeated “we have a unitary presidency”several times Sunday when asked if DJT will fire Mueller. Sekulow’s presence on the legal team indicates the far right takeover of the Executive Branch.

  9. How can this country; including the current Congressional makeup and the 1%, opt for #2 without including #3, and survive? Removing power from the Executive office without removing the source of the problem will continue to plague us as a nation and maintain our escalating downhill slide from being THE world leader we have been until approximately 2:30 a.m., November 9, 2016. The questionable ability of Trump to run this country has never been in doubt; I believe the members of Congress had no idea of the level of uncontrollable instability he is capable of and has proven he IS the leader of mass confusion and obfuscation regarding all governmental – and his personal – issues. In this instance; we MUST throw out the baby with the dirty bathwater and start over…even if it means starting over with Pence.

    “The 64 Thousand Dollar Question is whether the Democrats can get their act together, recruit responsible and attractive candidates, and forgo their usual intra-party fratricide.

    The whole world is watching….”

    The Democratic party MUST “get our act together” in any case but the future of this county is in the hands of the current Republican Congress whose palms have been crossed with much more than the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas. The American public has become a nation of sheep, following the Judas goat to oblivion by ignoring reality and allowing the continuation of Trump’s leadership and the REFUSAL of Pence and Congress to follow their oath to support the Constitution of the United States of America by removing him for reasons obvious to the world at large, his “…Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office,…”

    Ms. Kamark’s option #1 needs to be disregarded as being far beyond the realm of possibility let alone reality. After watching the Senate Intelligence hearings, with Comey then Sessions, in their hot seat; I can only question…do the Republicans support this country becoming a Russian satellite nation? Their slowdown and start and stop investigation process appears to be going nowhere while the entire Senate is hiding the primary objective of Trump and all Republicans; the hidden Trumpcare bill which seems to be passing through the Senate like shit through the proverbial goose. They consider this as keeping one of Trump’s and their own, primary election campaign promises while those of us intelligent to question the procedure are aware that they were all election campaign THREATS.

  10. I no longer believe the Democratic Party can get its act together. The Bernie supporters, following the full-throated encouragement of Sanders himself, have decided they have the only answer to the question, “how can Democrats win?” And the fact that every Sanders-backed candidate for office since he started his run for the Presidency, with a single exception, has lost means absolutely nothing to them. They believe THE issue, the ONLY issue, is economic “fairness” for the white working class, and they will shove aside the reliable base of the Democratic Party, particularly women of color, in exchange for their fantasies. The fantasies they insist on, by the way, in a non-too-subtle “nice Party ya’ got there – shame if something happened to it” voice.

  11. After reading all the comments, it was clear that this sample is a collection of muddled fears. What must change is the narrative. Campaigning and running on wedge issues is a non-starter. There are six or seven issues that over 60% of the people in the country approve of. Education for all, health care for all, sane gun control, debt free college, renewable energy, etc., are all positive issues.

    Forget the rubbish about LGBT rights, abortion and immigration fears. While they are important, they are are the wedges that allow evil oligarchs like the Koch brothers to buy up political power.

    So, the concerted effort must be to find and train candidates who will campaign of the issues that matter to the people in such a way that they feel empowered and part of the effort.

  12. Democrats will continue to lose because they have become Republican-Lite in order to appeal to “moderate and suburban” Republicans such as David Honig.

    That hasn’t been working out. Sanders supported candidates have lost because the DNC doesn’t give the candidates the tools to win. We have Trump because the DNC ran a terrible candidate. The very same candidate that was described by the DNC and the punditry in 2008 as not being qualified to be president.

    The Democrats will continue to appeal to David Honig and his ilk and will deservedly continue to lose.

    Hell, I’m surprised there hasn’t been an article declaring Bernie Sanders of being a Russian agent in the WAPO or NYT ,and having that article posted here as fact!

  13. The nice thing about being old … which I am … is that it makes it possible to recall meaningless fodder that was introduced eons ago. Among today’s comments are multiple references to “the $64,000 question.” In days of yore, the monetary reward was 64 dollars … not 64 thousand dollars. And $64 sounded like a lot of money.

    Thanks to self-centered billionaires like Fake President Donald Trump, $64,000 does not sound like a lot of money. There seems to be considerable evidence that money is no big deal to Trump. What he wants is power … and more power … and more power. And what old geezers like me want is solid evidence that Trump has absolutely no interest in doing anything for anybody except himself. Evidence that will hold up in any impeachment proceedings.

  14. Vernon and William good posts. The Democratic establishment is now obsessed with all things Trump and Russia and still making excuses up to explain Clinton’s loss. CNN and MSNBC are obsessed with Russia-Trump, Trump – Russia.

    The Republicans are not going to abandon Trump. Trump is the best cover they could have for their goal of dismantling regulations on steroid capitalism and feeding the Theocrats.

    I read recently an analysis on American politics and it’s direction. The analysis mentioned that after Bush Younger the country was politically looking forward to change. The result was the semi-outsider Obama defeated the establishment insider Hillary Clinton in 2008. Obama did not outright win the primaries, it took the Super Delegates to put him over the top. The author said the country was looking for Hope and Change. Obama went to victory over McCain and Romney. Obama had coat tails at least in 2008.

    The analysis brought up the rise of the “Tea Party” as further evidence that Americans wanted a change.

    It seems rather evident Main Street Americans suspected and then realized their standard of living was stagnant or falling, but Wall Street was bailed out. Trump did understand this and capitalized on this American decline in the middle class. Trump swept the establishment Republicans away.

    Sanders caused the Democratic Party a major case of heartburn. The Super Delegates again decided the issue. Trump, the ultimate outsider in the sense of politics won the presidential race. If the Democratic Party wanted reform, item # 1 should be to get rid of the Super Delegates.

    The Democratic Party has been on a long downward slide since 1994. The Republicans now control the House, Senate, Presidency and governorship’s.

  15. Trump wants attention and money and that 2nd scoop of ice cream. He wants people to have the power to follow him incessantly.

  16. We need a real third party like France. That may be the only thing that will wake dem and repub foundations so they actually stand for the good of the people not special interest. And of course reversing citizens united (what a joke of a name)

  17. Democrats are focused on halting the decline of America. When the ship is sinking, nobody worries about who the next Captain might be. They are bailing as much and as fast as they can.

    Trump conquered the Republican Party before the Democrats. He has no allies but his family and is not likely to attract any but sycophants. All he has is Twitter.

    The path to here goes through fake news and that is a lucrative and growing business being adopted by the left in reaction to the right. It will never lead to good places regardless of who does it. Trump has added Twitter to the fake news network but that’s just adapting his celebrity instincts (the only wealth he’s earned BTW) to current technology.

    The collapse of America as a global leader is inevitable. The only hope left is the Phoenix move of something rising from the ashes.

    The ship of state turns slowly and Obama’s steady hand will be in evidence for years but not unfortunately for ever. The crumbling of our foundations will be quick but not instantaneous which is in conflict with broken journalisms best selling product “breaking news”.

    So here we are. Let’s be real. We married democracy and private enterprise and both have given us a hell of a run but they’re not compatible any longer with the real world.

    Like them I doubt if their replacements will be born here but perhaps for the second time we will recognize a good thing when we see it. Perhaps will even be lucky enough to hit the Daily Double and survive.

    But perhaps not.

  18. Vernon gets it. Here is the ugly reality: we are on the brink of losing our republic and Democrats need to think strategically to save it.

    1) The fundamental political problem is generational. The Baby Boom is rejecting modernism and for a a few more years will have the votes to force regressive politics on the rest of us. After that the country will be far more progressive, but only if our republic survives.

    2) In general winning over the regressives will be nearly impossible — they live in an alternate universe and by nature are not likely to change their minds.

    3) Economic security, though a dire actual issue, will not be the driver of the next elections.

    4) The Democrats are weak and beholden to many fairly radical constituencies that represent points of view and issues anathema to the regressives.

    5) These issues drive Republican turnout and suppress moderate Democratic turnout.

    6) The Democrats must reach an overall consensus that the next elections NOT be about gays, blacks, women, latinos, etc. The strategy to defeat the bigots must be “let them lie, and they will die.” The Democrats should ideally nominate a lovable white man who shies away from divisive issues. Everything should be done to suppress Republican votes and a massive Democratic get out the vote system must be enacted.

    The question is, can the Democrats ignore their pet issues long enough to unite and defeat the last gasp of the me, me, me generation and their backward-looking ideas?

  19. Being against Trump does not make you a good Democrat; being a good Democrat is what makes you a good Democrat – and what is a good Democrat? There is not nearly as much difference in the so-called Bernies and establishment Democrats or a combination of them as there is between either or both of them and Republicans, who have turned out to be toadies for the rich and corporate class and who do not have to answer to those who elected them in this age of the gerrymander which allows them to free lance and not represent since they were not really elected by those whom they represent but rather by a concocted geography, much as Trump was not elected by voters but by geography. Malcontents such as I basically resent being ruled by a minority which wins by the gerrymander, voter suppression and other such efforts designed to skew the count without regard to our democratic institutions such as majority vote and even right to vote. Marge makes a good point today in her note to the effect that our future may rest in state elections. She may well be right but we must remember that not only federal congressional elections are subject to the gerrymander; state elections are also subject to the gerrymander, which means that we must organize, fund and secure viable candidates on a local level like never before. The federal elections command the limelight, but as the Kochs rightly recognized, it may be that our fates are bound up in state elections. The truth is that we must work hard to elect Democrats on every level of government, none excluded.

  20. Can we try, convict and execute korporations, yet? If we could the people would regain power in a hurry, to my way of thinking.

  21. If Pence winds up president, the Koch’s will control everything, because they own Pence and Ryan and the “freedom” caucus. But does it matter, because they’re using Trump as a shield while they turn us all into peons.

    Jeremy Corbyn didn’t manage to take over Parliament, but he did what everyone thought was impossible: He put brakes on May’s power. I hope it’s just a first step. To make a pun of it: More power to him!

    We need to put the brakes on. If I were advising a Democratic candidate for any office, from town council to president, I’d say, “Take the Corbyn route. Remind people that taxes pay for services, taxes pay for infrastructure, and that too many wealthy people and corporations aren’t paying up. Republicans have been lying about taxes at least since Reagan. Call them out on their lies, again and again and again. Don’t let up. Talk about poverty, then talk about where the money goes.”

  22. Some of you by now have heard about the gunman who shot up a congressional baseball practice near DC.

    A coincidence: After the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice Wednesday morning, the House cancelled a scheduled hearing in which a National Rifle Association leader was to push for the deregulation of gun silencers.

    The GOP-sponsored bill up for debate in the House Natural Resources Committee, the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act), would have removed gun silencers from the list of items regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act.

    Silencers — also referred to as suppressors by the gun lobby — reduce the noise emitted from firearms. Under current law, they are regulated as strictly as machine guns and short-barreled rifles, but the gun lobby claims that these regulations are costly and unnecessary. They argue it’s more important to protect law-abiding gun owners against potential hearing loss.


    I guess the NRA has never “heard” about ear plugs to protect law-abiding gun owners, until such time as they are no longer law abiding.

  23. What Elaine Kamarck depicts is an abject catastrophe for the entire global community. Chaos pure and simple and billions of people will likely suffer horrendously because of it. The moral underpinnings of our country and with those of the rest of the world’s will be ripped away. Human development will be in a fully retrograde posture at that point.

    That one way trip to Mars might actually be a better deal than contending with all of this.

  24. The world is watching in HORROR.

    After the DNC hack, what makes anyone think that the russians stopped short of hacking the voting results. Seriously!
    Those 80k votes that gave #45 his victory were real?

    I don’t think so. That’s why he’s not my President.

  25. The world is watching in HORROR?

    The horror? Really?

    Hey snowflake;

    No,what we’ve done to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq is a horror. What we’ve accomplished in Syria and Libya is a horror. What was done to the people of Haiti and Honduras is a horror.

    Of course,brown people across the world don’t count in your little bubble.

  26. WTH William?
    I have friends in Europe that are watching our political system in HORROR. They have always believed in the USA and now, we have this idiot that was selected by Russia to run our government. Maybe you should get out of your bubble and live abroad for a while like I did. 5.5 yrs I lived in Europe and those citizens LOVE America. Some of them have seen more of it than I have and I’ve been to 40 states. They have a better quality of life than most Americans. Don’t snowflake me. Good grief wake up.

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