Black Comedy about American politics follows, below the fold. If you’re sensitive, I recommend you go elsewhere.
Hello there, reader! Since the Iowa Caucuses happen tomorrow, if you’re going to vote in them, the odds are you started caring about politics now.
Anyway, point is that I see people talking about this election cycle in the United States and I feel like there’s a bit of a misunderstanding of what’s involved, that maybe I, an outside observer can help with. So here’s just a short check-list.
1. You’re Not Electing A King
This one’s really easy to lose track of, because the candidates do their damnedest to pretend it’s not true. Sometime around the 1700s (look it up, I’m sure it’s in the books there), America got kinda jack of having some white dude far away from them having disproportionate authority over them and asking them to pay their taxes, so there was a bit of an argy-bargy about it. Then you set up a government that made sure that a huge cloud of white dudes far away from them could be properly stymied by the tantrummy incontinence of one of the white dudes from nearby.
What I’m saying is: The President can’t do much.
Oh sure, he can ask. He can direct the party he’s the head of, technically, and that amounts to asking politely. Now, I don’t want to be too insulting to you, since there’s a good chance that you’re actually like, 18 or 19 and don’t realise this because this literally is your first political cycle, but I just wanted the past 8 years of American history toe a center-right pro-corporate line that was still able to be locked down twice by a minority voice of douchey self-importance.
2. What The President Can Do Is Super Limited
I remember when Obama got elected, I was sitting in a room full of conservative Americans (I didn’t realise how thin-skinned they were), and someone sighingly said “He’s going to repeal the second amendment.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I said. “See, to change the constitution requires a supermajority in federal government, then a ratification by the other states governments, which means the entire process, even if he could get the majority of the Senate to allow it without a filibuster, could be held up by like, one guy in Kentucky.”
I was warned against hatespeech for that, by the way.
Anyway, the point is, the American government is this enormous system constructed on making sure that shit-kickers in Kansas have as much opportunity to say ‘nope’ to things as those folk who have read a book. It’s a system that slowly, slowly grinds towards progress, but most of its progress has been in the form of these big, lurching steps like ‘maybe Black people are people‘ and then spends the next fifty years grinding back in the other direction because hey maybe we overdid it with the Black People thing.
This means the President’s main obligations are the management of the military and the CIA, things that are mostly not actually under his control, the appointment of Supreme Court justices, and vetoing things. Thing is, vetoing things doesn’t happen very often, because bills don’t usually get to the President – because they tend to die in the two other parts of the government that are very, very good at doing nothing. Supreme Court Justices have to be accepted by the government, and in my lifetime, twice, the President’s withdrawn nominations because the subject was too embarassing and wouldn’t get accepted. Again: The government is really good at saying no.
The CIA thing is a problem, since it means that the President has the power to kidnap and torture other country’s people and do terrible things to them, but that wasn’t going to happen to you, so it is, understandably, a low priority for most Americans. Heck, a lot of them are in favour of it.
3. Basically Your Government Doesn’t Actually Function
Oh yeah, that’s the unfortunate side effect of this.
4. Well, That’s Miserable
It really is. I sometimes comment that America is a ‘barely functional’ democracy, or a ‘beta release’ democracy. Too many of its systems are inhibitive and incentivised totally wrong. I don’t blame you if you check out. But if you don’t check out, recognise that those lurches, those sharp, shocking jumps towards positive change, do happen in people’s lifetimes, and they can be made to happen by the force of people who care enough and work enough.
Just don’t stress too much about the President. Presidency neutralises the actor who gets it, and your government is set up so crybabies can hold things up really, really well.