11th August 2020
President Trump says a lot of tosh but sometimes a word or phrase is telling.
“I’ll tell you who’s meddling in our elections,” Trump says when asked about US counterintelligence officials saying Russia, China and Iran are trying to interfere. “The Democrats.”— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) August 10, 2020
Here Trump goes on to make a partisan point about the Democrats “wanting and insisting on sending mail-in ballots, where there’s corruption all over the place”.
An opposition party in a democracy seeking to encourage the turnout for a vote is not, of course, sinister.
That is what political parties do in a democracy.
And if there is corruption or other irregularities then that is what electoral law is there to regulate.
But this is to take his substantive point too seriously: the issue is the ease with which he adopted the word “meddling” from the question and employed it in his answer against the party challenging him in November’s election.
The impression he gave is that he considered the legitimate political activity of a political party as a hindrance – a wrongful intervention in the natural order of things.
And this impression is similar to the impression given by the Johnson-Cummings government in the United Kingdom in respect of constitutional checks and balances on the power of the executive.
Before the general election, when Johnson-Cummings did not have a majority in parliament there was the attempt to bypass the legislature with the (unlawful) use of the prorogation.
After the election, now they have a majority, the main attacks are on the independent judiciary and the impartial civil service.
The impulse is always the same: the desire to remove formal impediments.
There often seems to be no greater purpose – no particular policy to be driven through – than unrestricted executive power as an end in and of itself.
The objective is the elimination of anyone in a structural position to say ‘no’ or even ‘please think about this carefully’.
By framing any such restraints as “meddling” the executive-minded, such as Trump or Johnson-Cummings, are doing three things.
First, they are seeking easy claps and cheers and nod-alongs from those in politics and the media who should know better, as well as from voters generally.
Second, they are signalling that they consider any form of opposition to them getting their way as inherently illegitimate – and so that there are no constitutional or democratic principles of more import than the government just getting its way.
And third, they are converting basic constitutional or democratic principles into partisan devices – and so those who support and defend certain political fundamental norms (regardless of party) become part of a perceived opposition.
The worry is that they can and will get away with this for as long as possible.
There are, of course, often short-term political advantages to be had for the knave or the fool by undermining any political and constitutional system.
And one hopes that the system would be self-correcting, and that basic constitutional and democratic norms will somehow reassert themselves.
But what happens when, as now seems to be the case in the United Kingdom, such opportunism and cynicism become the ongoing policy of the government?
Will basic constitutional and democratic norms reassert themselves this time?
Or will this ‘executive power project’ carry on and on?
And, if so, wouldn’t that be genuinely ‘meddlesome’ behaviour?
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