By Tim Kalinowski on January 15, 2021.
The Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs welcomed University of Lethbridge political science professor John von Heyking to its weekly YouTube livestream speaker series to speak about recent events south of the border with the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building by Trump supporters, and the recent impeachment of the president by the House of Representatives.
Von Heyking said first it is important to note Donald Trump isn’t the cause of the problems in the U.S. political system, but is rather more of the symptom of them.
“Each side, (Democrat and Republican), cheers on their favourite oligarch much like sports fans cheer on their favourite star players,” he explained. “Except instead of a hockey arena, they play in social media. Leaders manipulate their followers who respond by cheering for their leader to destroy the other side. Only total victory will satisfy that lust, which social media does nothing but provoke. And each side is convinced the other will set up a tyranny and destroy the other side. A big danger the U.S. faces at the moment, with words untethered from reality, the members from the incoming administration will clamp down on any dissent they might necessarily define as ‘violent.'”
Von Heyking said the problem in the U.S. political system is the cults of personalities which have grown up around presidents and presidential candidates in recent decades by populist forces on both sides.
“Trump is a reminder we must be careful what we ask for,” he explained. “In particular Trump is the product of the progressive dream for a more egalitarian politics.
“American progressives since Woodrow Wilson back in the 19-teens have wanted more effective executive power and more democracy than James Madison and his (founding father) friends provided for in the Constitution. Wilson criticized the Madisorian separation of powers because it provided too many obstacles to the presidency. He wished for a more parliamentary fusion of powers where, as in the Canadian system, legislators depend upon the political executive.
“He admired party discipline. With both Republicans and Democrats adopting primaries in the late 1960s to choose their leaders, progressives found their means of promoting Wilson’s desire for a strong executive.
“This explains Trump,” von Heyking added. “It also explains the behaviour of many Republican members of Congress like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, whose power bases are no longer independent of the president as the Madisorian Constitution would provide for, but is linked to Trump’s personality cult. It also explains the impotence of Congress for the past few decades to advance and enact its own legislative agenda.”
While calling the storming of the Capitol Building, “a public theatre of lunatics,” von Heyking does feel the impeachment this week might be poorly timed given a large percentage of American voters feel the election was illegitimate.
“I think impeachment is highly imprudent because it is only going to sow more division,” he stated. “It’s going to go to the Senate when the Democrats take over. What’s interesting is (Republican) Mitch McConnell will then become the minority leader of the Senate, and he has been kind of cagey in saying, ‘I don’t know how I would vote. We will wait for the articles to come to the Senate.’ So it might go ahead, but if I were to advise the senators I would say delay it and wait for things to settle down, if they do.”
The “positive” thing about the recent happenings across the border, said von Heyking, is within its massive electoral rupture which culminated in violence the final result might also be the thing which resettles the balance within U.S. political system post-Donald Trump.
“The coming days will see whether calls to impeach, censure, indict Trump can do that, but perhaps the solution that might best heal divisions in the U.S. is right in front of them: the election results,” he stated. “If the election was about Donald Trump then Trump not only lost the presidency, he also lost both houses of Congress. Trump himself defines goodness with ‘winning.’ And on his one and only moral standard, he is a loser.”
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