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Political System in Crisis

The Humble Mr. Trump in His Own Words—Walter Moss

The Main Issue in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

News coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign has missed the most important issue. Customarily, what is discussed beyond the “horse race” of securing delegates are the characteristics of the candidates, the views of political party leaders, and candidates’ promises to resolve substantive issues. Most polling focuses on all three aspects but misses the main problem in the American political system.

The most serious issue in 2016 is procedural—what to do about a political system in crisis, with so little cooperation between two political parties (and within one of them) that the government has recently been shut down due to lack of compromise. The term “immobilist,” which clearly applies, was coined during the French Fourth Republic that accomplished so little that Charles de Gaulle marched with troops one day in 1958 and soon established the Fifth Republic with a new constitution. Similarly, Adolf Hitler was selected in 1933 by the German president to get something out of the pitiful Weinmar Republic. When the legislature in Thailand was unable to agree to a budget in 1971, the result was a coup. Other examples abound of failed democracies.

In the United States today, a new constitution and a coup seem unlikely, but voters are energized enough about immobilism that they appear to want to “shake things up” by electing someone unconventional.

In the United States today, a new constitution and a coup seem unlikely, but voters are energized enough about immobilism that they appear to want to “shake things up” by electing someone unconventional.

The political discourse within the media, however, fails to compare the candidates on how they plan to deal with gridlock in Washington. No matter which candidate is selected, the crisis will continue unless the winner has a plan to deal with a highly contentious legislature in which 41 Senators can and will block anything proposed by a new president. None of the promises of the candidates will become a reality until immobilism ends. If a candidate gets elected with big promises but fails to accomplish any, voters will be even more embittered than they are at present. The result would be a series of one-term presidents and increased voter apathy while those in Washington continue indefinitely to play their games, and the country goes downhill, deeper in debt and malaise.

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One candidate, Ted Cruz, has already tried to shut down the government twice. He got support once. As president, he will undoubtedly refuse to sign any budget until he gets his way. Just what he would demand emerges from his campaign rhetoric, which primarily is a litany of things that he detests about the government. Besides de-funding of Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, and rescinding the Iran nuclear agreement, he has not yet shocked the public with a proposal to abolish Medicare, Social Security, and other popular programs. The media have not exposed his recklessness, preferring to allow Cruz to be a thorn in the side of another candidate.

That other candidate is, of course, Donald Trump. He alone promises to end the gridlock—by “making deals.” Once, when he wanted to make a hotel into a condominium but was held up by a tenant who would not abandon her rent-controlled apartment, he offered her a deal—a rent-free rooftop penthouse for life—and she accepted. Recently, Trump has suggested another “deal”—block Mexicans in the United States from sending money to their relatives back home in order to force the Mexican government into building and paying for a wall between the two countries. Now the voters know that he would violate banking laws, open mail, and possibly shut down the Internet to make his threat real. Although he promises to end gridlock, his “deals” would doubtless bring about impeachment and removal from office.

Bernie Sanders was asked by Chris Matthews how he could possibly accomplish goals that are anathema to Republicans, at least enough of whom will block his proposals in the Senate even if there is a Democratic landslide in 2016. Sanders’s response was to throw the question back at Matthews, accusing him of Beltway thinking. Somehow Sanders believes that his message so resonates around the country that members of Congress will bow to his wishes immediately after he takes office. However, some Republicans in Congress will not even bow to their own members.

That leaves two candidates who appear to argue that they are moderate and pragmatic—Hillary Clinton and John Kasich. They claim to have track records of working with the other party in Congress. But such self-characterizations seem insufficient and vague and have been missed by the voting public. The long-lost investigative reporters have not asked them to get specific.

In short, the American government faces a constitutional crisis on a par that led to government takeovers in other countries. Meanwhile, the candidates talk nonsense about the problem, and the media pretend that the main issue does not even exist after years of promoting the image of a government in constant conflict.

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Trump has a plan, and voters back him for behaving like a white knight. No other candidate offers an alternative to handle the most grave issue of the 2016 presidential election. Yet.

Michael Haas