Recent events indicate a continued movement away from the ideals our country was founded upon.
Those experiencing religious persecution in England and Europe fled to what was to become the United States of America. France gave the country the Statue of Liberty, symbolizing welcoming refugees. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Unfortunately these ideals didn’t extend to the indigenous people already here, or slaves brought to the country, nor more recently even to refugees. If we are to return to our ideals, we need to deal with the consequences of that.
A Federal system of government was created to provide representation of the people in the legislative process via Senators and Representatives, an Executive branch to administer the government and laws created by the legislative branch, and a judicial system to settle questions regarding the interpretation and implementation of the laws. There was a system of check and balances that were intended to prevent any branch, and in particular the Executive branch, from gaining too much power.
One of the most consequential of these is that Congressional approval is required for declarations of war. Unfortunately, that is one of the ideals we have lost. World War II was the last declaration of war. The Korean War was called a conflict. A declaration of war was never made for the Vietnam War, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now we have the “war on terror”. U.S. drone strikes, often with significant civilian casualties, in sovereign countries are routine.
Further deterioration of this was seen this week when the President of the United States, without any input from Congress, attacked Syria with cruise missiles. This was the very situation that balance of powers was supposed to prevent.
If we are to begin to recover our ideals, Congress must reassert its authority to declare war. As one who doesn’t believe in war, my hope would be that Congress would never do so, but at least there might be more consideration and restraint.
At our best, our Congressional representatives work together to create laws to promote the freedoms and interests of us all. Another major failure to live up to our ideals has been the corruption by the influence of money in politics. Public policy for many years now has been for the benefit of corporations over people. The Supreme Court made the ridiculous assertion that corporations have rights similar to those of the people. Congressional campaigns are now about gaining corporate favor and money.
One of the most visible and consequential examples of that relates to environmental damage. The Environmental Protection Agency came into being in 1970, and did a great deal to protect our environment. But that agency has had increasingly diminishing power, always losing conflicts where protecting the environment would impact corporate profits. The EPA is one of the main targets of the current Republican administration, with one the administration’s first acts being to rescind the protection of waters from coal pollution, approval of oil pipelines, and work now to roll back fuel efficiency standards.
In Congress, “winning” means advancing your party’s agenda regardless of how that affects the good of the general public. The rules of the Senate that used to require more than a simple majority to pass important issues and nominations provided a mechanism for the minority party, and the millions of people they represent, to have some influence. That was taken away this week, so that the current Supreme Court nominee could be approved over the objections of the minority party. This after the Senate failed to fulfill its Constitutional duty to consider President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
What recourse to we citizens have when something of that significance occurs? The partisan drawing of state and Federal districts is one of the main ways the voice of the people has been diminished. Another thing that must be done to begin to recover our ideals is to stop the partisan drawing of these districts.