Updated: Jul 15, 2020
by Walter Winch
“Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy.”
-Stephen Moore, co-founder of the Club for Growth and former Trump campaign advisor
The Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute, both conservative research organizations, have ranked Hong Kong number one as the “freest economy” in the world. Apparently, the millions of protesting residents of Hong Kong didn't get the message.
The ideal and fanciful world of so many of these conservative organizations often seems like a tour through Alice in Wonderland but the influence they exert across the globe cannot be ignored. See Democracy doesn't matter to the defenders of 'economic freedom.'
The start of the impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee last week offered us a glimpse of how American capitalism and democracy interact in the United States. Four constitutional scholars spoke to the committee about the Constitution and what it means to all of us.
A Democratic member of the committee asked one panelist what would be the result if, based on the current evidence, the House did not impeach the president. The response was precise: “We would no longer have a democracy.” The Republicans on the committee claimed there was nothing to investigate. John Adams, our second president, once said that, “There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
Yes, words do matter. Two, “Originalism” and “Textualism,” familiar to constitutional scholars, were words that came up several times in the hearing when discussing the meaning of the text and its interpretation. In brief, Originalism and Textualism narrow the interpretation of the Constitution and claims that it means no more or less “than what it meant to those who originally wrote and ratified it,” – the Founding Fathers. For some scholars it becomes less of a living document and more like a sacred totem to be decoded. (See “The Scalia Problem” below).
While unknown to most Americans, the consequences of narrow judicial interpretation could profoundly affect the average person in so many negative ways, including in areas like discrimination, voting rights, health care, corporate personhood and environmental regulations. The twenty-first century, sadly for many, has arrived.
At least once, the innocuous sounding term “unitary executive theory” was brought up. The unitary executive theory offers an expansive belief in the power of the president to control the entire executive branch of government and surely would be supported by most autocrats on the planet.
William Barr, Trump's current Attorney General, appears to strongly subscribe to this view. There is a clear and compelling reason why Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to confirm staunchly conservative judges, with lifetime appointments, as fast as possible. To strengthen democracy is not the reason.
Of course, we've never had a literal democracy in this country but part of the American narrative--and myth--says that we do have a democratic republic with representative government and three separate but equal branches with distinct duties and responsibilities. The ultimate power is vested in “we the people. “This was the genius of the American experiment in self-government when our Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788.
Democracy was not on the top of the “to-do” list for our Founding Fathers in the 18th century. James Madison, the author of the first draft of the U.S. Constitution and fourth president of the United States said that, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property...”
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center, Republicans Now Are More Open to the Idea of Expanding Presidential Power, indicates that while most Americans would be uncomfortable giving more power to our presidents, conservative Republicans -- by more than 50 percent – believe we could more effectively deal with “problems” if the president had more power. This number has doubled since March 2018.
In another poll, Trump greater than Lincoln?, ordinary Republicans said Trump was a better president by 53 to 47 percent. One respondent said, “Lincoln only freed the slaves.”
Whether or not we commit national suicide remains to be seen. But we are tempting fate, with a significant portion of Americans more inclined toward authoritarianism and less inclined toward democratic institutions.
In the early 1930s the German industrialists and the military considered Herr Hitler a useful idiot that could be controlled -- but the German lumpenproletariat considered Herr Hitler their savior.