Bipartisanship Isn’t Really a Thing. Let’s Have a Parliament.

Just how many checks and balances need to be unchecked and unbalanced to precipitate a true crisis of governance?

image by Laura LaRose (fifty-five/three-sixty-five) CC license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

As the Trump administration self-aborts in its first year, one is left to wonder: is a governmental system that allowed this to happen in the first place worth salvaging?

Despite clear and early evidence that Trump was engaged in illegal activity, he was elected and has continued to act in an arguably criminal manner, most notably in firing James Comey. An arsenal of smoking guns regarding his ties to Russia has raised the spectre of impeachment proceedings in his first year of office. The fact that every failsafe intended to prevent the ascendency of such a person in the first place was penetrated should give us some serious pause in considering how to proceed.

To put a finer point on it: would the impeachment of Donald Trump be a sufficient resolution to the violation of democracy that his presidency represents? I don’t think so. The system has been gamed in the crudest of fashions. A private individual has been allowed to raise a nation as his personal stakes — at the point of a Russian knife, perhaps, but nonetheless…

What, then, to do? The removal of Trump would resolve only the most exigent of the issues presented by his election. The prospect for real change to the system needs to be weighed even as we contend with the barbarian breach of our current fortifications. Even if all presidents going forward were elected via the popular vote, we would still be trapped by cyclical partisan squabbling.

How about something more radical? Would a shift to a parliamentary system prevent any of this from happening again? While parliamentary elections are just as susceptible to foreign interference, and haven’t prevented unqualified buffoons from attaining power in other countries, a parliamentary system does possess several advantages.

The capacity for a no confidence vote to expeditiously remove incompetent governments has an undeniable appeal. Wouldn’t we have pulled that lever by now were it available? And the tendency for a more pluralistic range of political parties to emerge in parliamentary governance seems like a tantalizing pressure valve in view of our current bipartisan deadlock. The necessary transparency involved in forming voting blocs would make the true principles and motivations of the various actors easier to discern.

So, too, the merging of executive and legislative authority tends to check the type of partisan standoff that occurred in 2013 and resulted in a government shutdown due to the intransigence of a Republican House majority under a Democratic president. Prime ministers are elected by the ruling party and its cohort under parliamentary systems, giving them an indisputable mandate to govern, unlike presidents, whose separate executive authority can be contested by the legislature.

It seems less likely that social conservatives would have sold out their principles entirely in throwing their support behind a predatory lout as they did with Trump and also that internecine plotting in the Democratic Party would have so effectively winged Bernie Sanders, who would belong to a separate Socialist Democratic party in a parliamentary system.

Most observers who have considered a switch to a parliamentary system have cast it, at best, as a thought experiment unlikely to progress beyond the editorial page. But, in light of the failure of our current system, we owe it to ourselves to take a harder look. It’s not like we’d need wigs and robes…even the UK parliament is ditching those.