Las Vegas Sun

June 23, 2018

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Where I Stand:

Brian Greenspun: We must restore checks and balances

I have the answer. Finally.

I believe I am like most Americans who wake up each day trying to understand what is happening to our country and wondering what it will take to fix it.

Whether you are conservative in your political views or of the more liberal variety, the fact remains that our country is cleaving — not quite down the middle but sufficiently enough to cause long-term damage to the democracy — in a way that would shock our Founding Fathers, for the second time in their immortal lives.

The first time, of course, was the Civil War, when family turned against family, neighbor against neighbor and north against south. While we can argue that the authority of the federal government laid out in the U.S. Constitution was sufficient to resolve the matter, which it did, the war was an outrage to our democracy and our American family.

Sadly, in some respects we are still fighting that war — or the underlying sentiments — more than 150 years later. That is a result of a flaw, not in the Constitution but in the hearts and minds of the citizens whose job it is to preserve, protect and defend it.

And that brings me to the second time that the Founders would be shocked. We are in the middle of that time.

We have families turning against families, states against states and, in a general sense, northern values against southern sentiments. We live in perilous times for our democracy. And it is unclear whether the framework our Founding Fathers set forth in our Constitution will act to safeguard the Republic.

Why?

Because as much as those who came together to form what they hoped would become a more perfect union tried to provide for a system of checks and balances, in the end, the only way that works is if Americans do their part.

The executive branch — the president — was given broad powers to run the government. As a check on what could be unfettered, dictatorial aspirations of an authoritarian president (who could imagine that happening?), the Constitution provided that Congress — as the lawmaking body — would be a co-equal branch of government. Congress would have oversight of the executive and be able to reign him in when required.

And to make sure both of those branches didn’t get together to run away with the people’s democracy, the Founders created the Supreme Court to make sure neither of the other two over-stepped their mandates under the Constitution.

It is a near-perfect system but it requires one thing to make it all work. It is essential that those who serve in the executive, legislative and judicial branches and who take an oath to preserve, protect and defend our precious democracy — actually do it.

Sadly, for all kinds of reasons — none good — our elected officials have failed to rein in the authoritarian tendencies of the chief executive. We read that there are two different realities co-existing in America. One is based on “alternative facts.” It is OK to read whatever we want but it just isn’t OK to actually believe that which isn’t true. That is how democracies unwind.

Yet some people do believe the lies, deceit, bluster and bullying, because no one is standing up against that un-American behavior. At least, no one in the political party of the president will do so out of fear of political reprisal. No badge of courage for that, I would suggest.

There are a few exceptions.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has rarely ever shrunk from a fight over principle, has spoken out. We applaud his truth-telling and courage in the face of difficult circumstances.

Who else in the Republican Party has dared to challenge the president when he lies, bullies, denigrates and deceives the American people, and diminishes the institutions of government upon which we rely for our rule of law (the FBI and Department of Justice come to mind)?

I can think of three. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Sen. Bob Corker or Tennessee and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. These men have three things in common. They are all Republicans, recognizable more from the right side of their party than the left. They have each been critical of President Donald Trump on matters of great significance to the United States while their colleagues have been deafeningly silent. And, yes, they have all announced that they are no longer running for re-election. That means they are free to speak their minds, to speak the truth, without fear of being tweeted against or primaried, or worse. They are lame ducks and free from the shackles of politics.

There are two ways to require our elected representatives to stand up for truth, decency and this democracy. The first is for the voters to demand it. I have seen nothing lately that gives me a sufficient degree of optimism that this will get fixed at the ballot box.

So, by deduction, the only other way to allow the Republican members of the House and Senate to do what the Constitution, the voters and their oaths require of them is to make them lame ducks.

That means that Republicans across the country and, especially here in Nevada, should be voted out in November. With nothing else to lose — except what little dignity they may have left — they may feel free to speak the truth.

And that truth is that regardless of policy differences we all may have, there is no place in our government for bullies, liars and those who knowingly, purposefully and with full knowledge of the damage they are doing to our country, try to destroy the institutions of our democracy for their own personal benefit.

That is the reality our Founding Fathers believed. It should be good enough for us to believe in that, too.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.