Issue 275: 2021 04 15: Big Beasts

American Bald Eagle in front of flag looking fierce
Eagle Eyed

15 April 2021

Big Beasts

by J.R. Thomas

Spring is in the American air, but so is trouble.  Down in Florida, trouble is starting to raise its ugly head, and the swamp is, as ex President Trump predicted, starting to get nasty.  But that is enough about the mating battles of alligators – look on YouTube if you want to see what happens when social distancing and appropriate behaviour rules are not followed.

You certainly would not want one of those big beasts on your lawns, and you might not want any political beasts on your lawns either.  On the Republican side the battle for the GOP is getting underway, and, slightly to the surprise of this journal, Mr Trump is hot on the path.  To our surprise we say, because we thought Donald might want a period of reflection and rest, thus forgetting our own advice, oft repeated here, that Donald does not like losing.  To him, the events of November 2020 were but a setback, and he is looking toward a reaffirmation of the strength of his brand in the midterm elections in 2022, and a crushing defeat in 2024.  Of the Democrat Presidential candidate; by D Trump, we should make clear.

Last week Mr Trump addressed a gathering in Mar-a-Lago which was intended to steal the initiative on his opponents in the Republican Party.  It was loudly cheered in the Florida sunshine, but not so much in Washington and points north, and west.  You would not expect the old guard of the party to be applauding the GOP’s defeated candidate too enthusiastically but Mr Trump made sure they didn’t.  He called Mitch McConnell “a dumb son of a bitch” – Mr McConnell we might recall is leader of the Republicans in the deadlocked Senate and the most senior elected Republican in the USA.  He again ripped into Mike Pence for not fighting to overturn the results last November – yes, the Mike Pence who was his loyal Vice-President for four years.  And said Anthony Fauci was “full of crap”.  Dr Fauci was of course Mr T’s chief medical advisor and now performs the same role, but perhaps with less stress, for President Biden.  If Mr Trump intended to seize the headlines he certainly succeeded, but he also induced a number of Republican’s to repudiate their support.  This is, it has to be said, odd behaviour by The Donald, who has been behaving himself since his retreat to the Trump Summer Palace at Mar-a-Lago, quietly backing candidates for the midterms, raising money for campaigning over the next years, and mostly keeping quiet.  Journalists covering his speech noted that the ex-President had gone off-piste from the issued version and suspected that Donald had lost his temper.  Dangerous, Donald, dangerous; the GOP has three years to find another candidate and an increasing number of its elected representatives are suggesting that they need a new voice, a younger one, with a touch of Reagan style and a commitment to dismantling the big government machine which Donald did so little about and which Joe is busy reinforcing.  What is noticeable is the number of Republicans calling for party unity and a common face to start to resist Bidenism, and to win back the Senate in 2022.  When those folks say “unity”, what they mean is “not Trump”, and by reviving memories of his bizarre behaviour in November the Donald is helping them along nicely.

So, to the other side of the swamp.  The Democrats made much criticism of the Trump administration for its alleged urges to tinker with the Constitution and with rules of political engagement.  In fact, there was very little such, although Mr Trump’s departure naughtiness  left a certain impression.  But those who follow US politics know what comes next – attempts by the incoming administration to do just that.  The Democrats are not in as good a position as they would like to be.  They may hold the Presidency, the House, and by Vice President Harris’s casting vote, the Senate.  But the USA Constitution is designed to protect against rapid change, arbitrary use of power, and ill-considered legislation.  Or, as my Corbynista colleague would say, it is heavily conservatively biased.  The ultimate defence is the Supreme Court, and purely due to the accidents of age and health Mr Trump was able to ensure that the Court had a large conservative majority by the appointments during his term.

The Supreme Court is not as powerful as many commentators would have us believe.  Its role is to interpret the law, not to make new laws.  (The conservative Court did not assist The Donald in his attempts to reverse the Presidential election result – because it was protecting the Constitution and there was no breach of Constitutional process.)  But interpretation of old laws can of course change the way they work and a radical majority Supreme Court in a time of a radical President can assist change to a measurable extent.  And a conservative Court can prevent change, and hold up legislation if citizens appeal to it that the legislation conflicts with the Constitution.  Mr Biden and in particular the Democrat Party has always known that could be a problem and has hinted that one solution would be to give the Court more members – so that Mr Biden could appoint to it a radical majority.  Joe, an old fashioned constitutionalist in many ways, has always rather resisted this, not least because a future conservative President might use the process again to reverse things.  This is not unprecedented – the Court got bigger in the first half of the C19th, but was then shrunk by actions of Congress in the bitter post Civil War fights against President Andrew Johnson, and has been limited to nine justices since 1869.  But the Democrats know that they could well lose control of the Senate in 2022, and must pass any controversial legislation fast; to that end they may yet persuade the President to attempt an enlargement of the Court.

Something similar is going on in the Senate.  One procedural process that has always been useful to those wanting to resist change has been the filibuster – that making of long long LONG speeches.  Effectively, skilled use of this tactic means legislation can be talked out of time and thus at least delayed.  To override a filibuster (or change the rules regarding it) requires sixty votes.  Changes to these processes, Senator Biden always resisted.  But President Biden seems to differ; he and some constitutional advisers are looking to see how reforms could be enforced on the Senate.

But it is not just the Senate where difficulties lurk, snapping and growling.  The Democrats in the House were reduced in the elections from 233 (plus Bernie Sanders) to 222 (plus Bernie) against 211 Republicans.  The Republicans are pretty cohesive and united.  The Democrats are less so, and there are enough Democrats who do not like the wilder-left shores of some of President Biden’s proposals that they are quite happy to vote against them to thwart legislation, unless very carefully handled.  In fact, it is true to say that the political diversity of the Democrats is remarkably wide, and a few dissenters could stymie a Biden presidency at least until 2022.  After which the Republicans may control the Senate again, and possible even the House.

We have some advice for those rebellious Democrats, especially those from the South.  Don’t go walking in your back yards this spring.  There’s some dangerous beasts out there.


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