Trump Shutdown Chronicles: The Way Democracy Works

The way the #TrumpShutdown is playing out right now is actually the way democracy is supposed to work.  That is, from the perspective of Americans who believe in the democracy envisioned by the founding fathers.  What is sad is that sometimes there are unintended victims.

Nearly 1 million federal workers are furloughed or in danger of being furloughed.  Included in that number are workers who are forced to work without pay.  Nine days into the shutdown, federal workers are beginning to wonder how they will be able to make ends meet.

But what is not lost in all of this is that fact that Trump is finding it very difficult to get what he and his base want - A "big beautiful wall paid for by Mexico."

Why is it so difficult?

That is the way the founding fathers intended it.  The biggest fear of the founding fathers at the time the constitution was being written was that one of the three branches of government (in this case - the president) might end up with too much power.  It was important that there be a balance of power not only at the federal level, but that states rights also be considered.  It was especially important to the southern states that they be able to maintain their way of life.  That is, a life that included the ownership of slaves - a minority position at the time.  They wanted it to be very difficult for the federal government to impose any restrictions on them, therefore, they made sure that minority viewpoints must be respected.

Decisions made in Congress need to be ones that are agreed upon by a majority of the Representatives and Senators.  It is this safeguard that allowed the southern states to maintain the existence of slavery for another 87 years and continue racist policies up until the passage of civil right legislation in the 1960's.

Was it right?  Arguably, people of color and women should have had the same rights as white men from the very beginning.  However, at the birth of this great nation, that was not a possibility (there were certainly people who thought slaves should be free and women should be able to vote, but they were in a strong minority at the time.  If both sides had stuck to their positions, it is impossible to imagine what North America would look like if not for compromise.

My point is that without compromise, and without the slow process of change purposely implemented by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we might have had more drastic and destructive changes in our democratic landscape.

A case in point, I might suggest, is the recent unanimous passage of federal anti-lynching laws in the Senate.  After years of southern state Democratic success in filibustering (or threatening to filibuster) legislation that included anti-lynching laws (under the guise that it was a "states right issue"), the Senate not only came to agreement that this was, and should always have been, a federal crime, but did so unanimously.  This happened in December of 2018!  Why?  Because they finally had enough Senators who could end a filibuster through cloture.  (To gain a better understanding of how filibuster and cloture work, read this excellent explanation by

Has it been a slow painful process to get to this point?  Absolutely.  But this is how the founding fathers intended it.  Change SHOULD be difficult.  Consensus SHOULD be required.  Patience NEEDS to be a virtue - especially if you are in the minority.  If it was too easy to change, then we'd have had another civil war by now.  Why?  Because if it truly took only 50.01% to make a change, then there is still a huge 49.99% minority that opposes it.

Both Republicans and Democrats often like to claim they have a "mandate" to make changes when they win with a small margin of victory.  I completely disagree.  I think the cloture rule best represents how change ought to occur.  The cloture rule says that a filibuster can be ended when the Senate has at least 60 Senators (or 60% of the Senators) voting in favor of ending debate.  I think 60% is a mandate - for federal issues, that is.

Think about amendments.  Amendments require 3/4ths of the states to vote in favor of it to be approved.  That's a mandate.  I think that we make the mistake of thinking that we need to look at everything as a federal issue.  We don't.  Look at the slow route legalization of marijuana is taking.  Think about it, if 3/4ths of the states legalize it in some form or another (and I believe they will), it can be legalized on a federal level.

Think about gun laws.  Rightfully so, Democrats are beginning to think in baby steps now.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't own a gun, and I don't think most people should.  But the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights is ambiguous on this issue.  So, the slow route is the only way we can foster change.  It is going to change when enough people get sick of gun violence OR at such a time as Americans realize that we really need to maintain the right to bear arms, it will reverse course.  Personally, I don't believe we will ever fully eliminate guns from society, however, I do feel there is a good chance we will go the way Switzerland has regarding gun laws.

Remember, the Constitutional "forcing of change to happen slowly" in American politics is meant to protect the minority voices in our country.  It is vitally important that we remember this and understand it.  We may not like it when we feel like we have a majority voice, and those changes are not being made, but it is exactly this that is protecting us from the changes President Trump wants to impose on the United States.  Take the wall he wants on the southern border, for example.  It is a minority of the people who want to wall built.  Read this article in the conservative Washington Times to see this.

Now, why should we build a wall for protection if more than 60% of the country and 75% of the states don't agree that we should (let alone 50%!)?  Only 41% are in favor of building a wall on the southern border.  How would gun advocates feel if Obama decided to shut down government until we banned bump stocks on guns?  This is something that 81% of Americans favor doing.  Shutting down the government is something you do if you are on the bubble of being accepted.  It is not something you can force through when the majority does not agree with you, especially if there are ways that you can strike a compromise.

In a previous article, I argued that we should let Trump have his wall in return for DACA (also known as Dreamers) path to citizenship.  I suspect that Trump has never really been very good at compromise.  Rather, he is just used to getting his way because he was the boss.  Politics is different.  Republican voters are learning this now.  Just because you pick someone from the business world to run government like a business doesn't mean that you are going to get your way.  Compromise is the only way to bring about meaningful change.

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