Yesterday, live on cable television, Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, dramatically declared that we are now in a “constitutional crisis.” This was just after his committee had voted to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt for his refusal to comply with a subpoena for the full Mueller report, on which President Donald Trump, rather bizarrely, has now invoked Executive Privilege.
Nadler’s claim is not without justification. The Trump administration, in an apparent attempt to mute or even cover-up the real findings of the Mueller investigation as much as they possibly can, has taken numerous actions that threaten our system of checks and balances, which is based on three co-equal branches of government not overreaching their authority and respecting the proper roles of the other two.
It is probably a good time to examine how it is that, despite having the best governmental structure humans have ever created, we have somehow gotten to this precarious point, with no apparent way out of it. The story of this system-wide failure is a narrative that makes just about everyone look really bad, and where there are sadly no heroes.
In short, the American experiment was set up with numerous failsafe mechanisms in place as way to prevent something like the situation we are currently in the process of facing from ever fully coming to fruition. Here is a, surely incomplete, list of where and how that machinery failed thanks to what might be called a perfect storm of circumstances.
- No one possessing the lack of character of Donald Trump was ever intended to become a major party’s presidential nominee, and then also to have the benefit of running against someone as unpopular as Hillary Clinton, mostly because no one ever anticipated celebrity being by far the most important characteristic that a presidential candidate could ever possess.
- An adversarial foreign power was never supposed to be allowed to try to influence our presidential election on one candidate’s behalf, and if they did, surely that candidate would never accept their help and not even inform our intelligence agencies about what was happening. The prospect of that candidate actually winning, while not even getting the most votes, was surely never even contemplated.
- Our news media was never supposed to completely abdicate their responsibility to properly vet candidates because it wasn’t in their financial self-interest to do so. They also were never expected to have blown all their credibility with huge portions of the population because of years of extreme bias and the craven pursuit of ratings over substance, so that when they really needed to be trusted, none of the right people still took them seriously.
- It was never expected that an elected president could be so craven as to be willing to blow up the entire system to protect themselves from being held accountable for their own wrong doing.
- If such a presidency somehow transpired, it was assumed that members of their own party, if not out of principle, at least out of electoral survival, would not go blindly along with such a scam. It was not anticipated, however, that our electorate would be so polarized that not even one member of such a president’s party would have either the political incentive, or the courage, to seriously buck them.
- It was presumed that, if such a circumstance somehow transpired, the opposition party, riding a wave of public support via a negative reaction to such a development, would quickly take over congressional power as a firm check on such an out-of-control executive branch. However, it was never thought that “red” states and “blue” states would be so radically different that a party enduring the burden of such a presidency would actually pick up a couple of Senate seats, while maintaining control of that chamber.
- When our system was set up, it was not premised on the idea that the voting population would be very poorly educated regarding civics, have astonishingly tiny attention spans, and that the vast majority would never bother to read even one word of a report detailing serious possible crimes by the president.
- Nor was it anticipated that our sources of news would be so fragmented that every citizen would be able to instantly tailor the information they receive to conform almost exclusively to what it was they wanted to believe in the first place, easily blocking out any data which does not conform to those preconceived notions.
- It was never projected that when the party in opposition to this tyrannical president took over the House that, even if they all pretty much agreed that this person should be impeached, they would be extremely hesitant to do so because the other party was so entrenched that there no hope of any of them going along with it, no matter what the evidence is. It was also not accounted for that the party in charge of the House would be so willing to let the party protecting their president so easily off the hook by not even forcing them to publicly defend their anti-impeachment position.
- Finally, it was not accounted for that the final stopgap in a circumstance like this, the judiciary, would become so overtly politicized that even members of the Supreme Court would be routinely referred to as representing political parties. It was also probably never expected that the president in question would have appointed himself a majority on the court, with the likely deciding vote in any controversial matter coming from a justice whose entire career that president personally saved by backing him during an unprecedentedly contentious confirmation battle.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.