“If people lose faith in their government, the result is the same whether or not the loss of confidence is justified.” John F. Kennedy (U.S. President)
“Public confidence in the integrity of the government is indispensable to faith in democracy; and when we lose faith in the system, we have lost faith in everything we fight for.“ Adlai Stevenson (U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations)
Let’s look at the current state of American government to see if all is yet lost or not. It’s worth thinking about the three branches of government separately – executive, legislative and judicial (in other words, the President, the Congress and the Courts).
The Trump era certainly didn’t help the legitimacy of the Office of the President. Americans watched as Mr. Trump spent much of his time leading partisan pep rallies as if his campaign never ended, vindictively bashing his perceived enemies, most of them other Americans (such as Hillary Clinton even though he’d defeated her years earlier). He spent relatively little time governing or leading the country and succeeded only in dividing the country even further rather than making anything great again. Even after he no longer had the job, he took highly classified government documents for his unknown personal purposes, which can’t possibly be in America’s interest no matter how much slack he’s given by his supporters.
Whatever honor the office of the President of the United States once held was unceremoniously dismantled. President Biden has tried to restore some measure of dignity to the position but without much success, in part because a significant percentage of Americans still refuse to believe that Mr. Biden is the legitimate U.S. President despite the lack of any evidence that he “stole” the election.
The U.S. Congress is divided between two parties, and each party insists upon doing the exact opposite of what the other one wants, with regard for only their own political aspirations and nearly total disregard for what polls show that the majority of the American people want. Overwhelming percentages of Americans want laws for more gun control, better health care and reasonable self- determination regarding abortion rights, to name just a few, but many of their elected representatives ignore them. A few members of Congress continue to insist that their colleagues take at least some of the actions that Americans want, but they are then often called socialists.
Only campaign money contributions seem to matter, from special interests, the uber-wealthy and a narrow base of extremist voters. Real issues are treated as mostly irrelevant. Congressional partisan gamesmanship has reached such a level of absurdity that it’s created nearly total dysfunction. So Congress is not a place to find very much trustworthiness in American government.
U.S. courts are supposed to be a place where justice will be applied, in fair and non-political ways that may not please everyone but will provide a solid and legitimate basis for government and rule by law. In theory yes… in recent real-life practice, not so much.
Courts nowadays are openly described by Americans as being controlled by “Trump judges” or “anti-Trump judges”. In some cases, that’s accurate, but thankfully not always, and fortunately not in the election fraud lawsuits. However, even a few instances understandably erode trust in the fairness of the U.S. court system. Lawyers who openly abuse the legal system with bogus cases (Rudy Giuliani is a good example) remain unpunished. The result is that U.S. courts are increasingly seen by Americans as a circus where big money wins and judges’ personal politics rule the outcome.
Lately the U.S. Supreme Court has stopped even trying to appear to be non-political. The decision in 2000 where the court handed the U.S. Presidency to Republican George Bush rather than to Democrat Al Gore was already a huge crack in the façade of the court’s impartiality, but the court has now openly reversed itself on decades-old abortion rights and simultaneously signaled that other privacy rights (same-sex marriage and others) are next in line to be abandoned.
Some of the legal explanations for their changes in approach were proper, even if unpopular, but other rationales offered in the court’s ruling were old concepts that should have been relegated to history, but instead were revived for supposed support of women’s lack of rights in the 21st century. The result was another high-profile loss of the court’s legitimacy in the eyes of the American public, and an additional erosion of American’s trust in their government.
“Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson (original author of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. President)
At the same time as all three branches of the U.S. government have been self-destructing in these ways, the Republican party has simultaneously worked to undermine the underlying process for a democratically elected system of government in the USA. They have already succeeded in restricting voting rights in many places, and they are now poised in the mid-term elections this coming November to further eliminate voting by many more Americans.
Their voter suppression tactics are astounding: they first lie about 2020 election fraud that didn’t exist, then put laws into place to change future election practices in ways that officials will be able to alter the actual election results, thereby creating the election fraud that was originally proven not to exist… but then will exist. Despite that irrationality -- or perhaps because of it – these very real steps are being taken to erode and ultimately end the democratic form of government in the United States. Some Americans are understandably appalled, some are inexplicably pleased.
The end result, like it or not, is that the U.S. system of government is rapidly losing its legitimacy in the eyes of the vast majority of the citizens who live under it. The rest of the world sees it too, and the stature of the United States abroad continues to slide accordingly.
Does this mean it’s already over? Will “American democracy” be a chapter in future history books from 1776 to 2022? Some modern popular thinkers say it best….
“Everything government touches turns to crap.” Ringo Starr (rock star)
“To restore the trust of the people, we must reform the way the government operates.” Arnold Schwarzenegger (former California governor and actor)
Tom A. Lippo is a Finnish-speaking American lawyer. Educated at Yale, the University of Jyväskylä and Stanford Law School, he is the founder of FACT LAW, an international law firm established in 1985. FACT is the first law firm with offices in both Finland and the United States. Tom has been a lawyer in Washington, DC based on Capitol Hill for 40 years.