The United States is experiencing disruptive politics, as promised by the Republican Party and President Donald Trump. The Republican Party possesses comfortable majorities in the US House (241/194) and US Senate (52/48), the presidency, a majority of US Supreme Court judges, and 32 state legislatures. With this strong mandate for change offered by the electorate in 2016, Republicans seek to reduce or eliminate tax, regulatory, health care, environmental policies; build a wall along the southern border, “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and insider interests, and more to fulfill campaign promises.
Mr. Trump has brought to the presidency unconventional ideas about governing and the role of government in society. Having registered as both Democrat and Republican at different points in his life, his leadership style has not won over all congressional Republicans. Additionally, with an administration mired in an assortment of controversies surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the Republican agenda has not moved forward as much as many in the party would like. The Democrats, roundly trounced in the elections (save for the nearly 3 million more popular votes Hillary Clinton won), are playing the role of “loyal opposition” by challenging the new administration, something the Republicans did so well during the Obama years. With political partisanship at record levels—meaning little to no inter-party compromises on issues—stalemate seems to be an apt description of politics in Washington, DC these days.
But isn’t some degree of gridlock precisely what the separation of powers with checks and balances promotes? Even when one political party controls the branches of government, institutional limitations on the exercise of power are built into the political system. This was done at the founding of the nation in order to 1) protect wealth, and 2) promote liberty for freemen. The revolution that gave rise to the United States was not a social transforming event; rather, its focus was on establishing a new political order. The new political system created by the Constitution allows for slow, incremental, deliberative change through mechanisms that are more likely to thwart than to embrace change. This may have been an adequate response the post-Revolutionary War environment they found themselves in at the end of the 18th Century, but can it survive the rapid changes upon us today?
Scholars see several disturbing trends in American government on the left and the right that contribute to the disruptions we observe today: the unprecedented use of social media by the president, his appointees, and members of Congress; gerrymandered election districts that produce overly partisan candidates; nearly unfettered money in campaigns; and elected officials who care more for their reelection than the public good. Much of what ails politics is the relatively low level of political participation (roughly 60% in 2016). Political mandates for change in public policies are difficult to assess when 40% of the eligible electorate opts out of voting.
Is this the kind of political system that can respond adequately to the challenges of the 21st Century? It might be, but the United States today couldn’t be more different now than it was when our current political system came into existence in 1789. From some 4 million in population in 1790 (the first official census) in 13 states to nearly 325 million today in 50 states, from horse and buggy to the International Space Station, from an electorate of only white propertied men to full adult suffrage, the country has changed while political structures remain the same.
The issues Americans face in 2017 are polarizing and profound; they speak to the kind of nation we are today and what we seek to become. The two main ideological groups in the United States, liberals and conservatives, offer not only differences of opinion on the same issues, but also different sets of issues that reflect their policy preferences. Consider the following (incomplete) list:
This assignment’s scenario suggests the need to explore alternatives that would encourage more responsive government and your task is to do that exploration.
Here are your instructions:
In addition to information available in the textbook and supplemental videos, you are to find and use any legitimate information source to obtain information about making American government more responsive to the issue demands the country faces today (use keywords to search). Though you will consult and list your sources, you must not quote or paraphrase from them—you must write in your own words (failure to follow this instruction leads to an automatic reduction of points). Below you will find some of the ideas under consideration to make American government more responsive:
Once you have adequately researched the topic, you will prepare a 540 word (minimum) essay that argues in support of or opposition to the idea that the United States is in a constitutional crisis. You must back up your argument by specifically describing why you take your position and demonstrating your understanding of the information you have learned in Module 1. Your response must be written in academic English. You will use your own voice and write in your own words.
To earn full points you must follow all instructions carefully, proofread for writing errors, and submit on time
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