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President Biden and the American Project

Education 20 Jan, 2021 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

Joe Biden, Elected President of the United States

On January 6, the world was treated to a spectacular show of the unthinkable. The American capitol was stormed, insurrectionists banged on the doors of the United States congress, smashed, broke in and entered while its occupants were taken to or ran to safety as much as they could. The insurrectionist believed that the election was ‘stolen’ and they came to set things right. They crashed the congressional ceremonial proceedings intended to confirm that Joe Biden won the election and would be sworn in as President of the United States. The totality of what they did while they roamed the building, including the Senate Chamber, is still being put together, a daily stream of information and recordings of the event from different angles. So far, the articles and papers on this one event has been accumulating and various perspectives are being given.

Whatever one’s take on this event, it was clearly a mammoth misuse of power, a supremely undemocratic act and a violation of the intent of the founding fathers of American democracy when they framed the American constitution. The founding fathers sought to frustrate power through the construction of a unique political framework. They harbored a healthy mistrust of human beings of what they might do when given power. Even before Lord Acton, James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, the founding fathers of the American constitution, knew that ‘power corruots and absolute power corrupts absolutley’. A main objective in the framing of the American constitution was to avoid, at all cost, the rise of tranny in the US. James Madison wrote in the Federalist papers, that:

‘No political truth is certainly of more intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty than that… the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’

In other words, tyranny was one person or body of persons having too much power which predictably, would be used to the detriment of the people and the country generally. To guard against this possibility they constructed a system of separation of powers and checks and balances intended to frustrate power but at the same time ensure that governance was still possible to prevent lawlsessness and anarchy. Each branch of government is given a number of checks with which it can keep the others in proper balance. Congress is empowered to check the President as it can refuse to pass Bills requested by the President, can deny approval of Presidential appointments to top executive posts etcetera. It was designed to allow each branch to restrain abuse by each other branch.

Forms of separation of powers include the federal nature of US government, limitations on the power of the President including constitutional limits to two elected terms in office and the assignment of significant independent powers to Congress and the Supreme Court, which means that these bodies cannot be commanded by the President. The House of Representatives may impeach the President, Cabinet members and judges and if impeached, this person is then tried by the Senate where a two thirds majority is needed for convication.

And to a large extent, even with some main weaknesses, the US system of separation of powers and checks and balances, has served to frustrate power and to prevent its abuse.

But the human factor it was deviced to contain, is always present. The success of democracy reguires many things, but most important are discerning voters able to apply critical thinking to the mass of information which daily confront them. Those who vote must do so wisely. As American writer, poet and philosopher, Suzy Kassem advises:

“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. Intellectualism and wisdom, not ignorance. Stability, not fear and terror. Peace, not chaos. Love, not hate. Convergence, not segregation. Tolerance, not discrimination. Fairness, not hypocrisy. Substance, not superficiality. Character, not immaturity. Transparency, not secrecy. Justice, not lawlessness. Environmental improvement and preservation, not destruction. Truth, not lies.”

It is my view that the inaurgaton of President Elect Biden and Vice-President Harris, brings to end a most unfortunate chapter in US political history. It is their unenviable task to bring the pandemic under control. So far over 400,000 deaths have occurred, the most in any one country. And they must do so while healing the wounds of a divided nation. Those especially affected by the downturn in the economy must be attended to. He must bring civility and humanity to the immigration system and return the US to have presence in the United Nations, the World Health Organization and to environmental organizations and agreements.

Issues of race and colour must be confronted. Systemic racism is a fact of American reality impacting every area of life. Urgent foreign policy issues are to many to enumerate but the objective must be to return credibility to American foreign policy. But even as he takes these on, every effort must be made to rebuild American institutions of democracy in order to restore trust. As the world’s most powerful country, the success of American democracy, economy and society is truly important for the success of the international community.


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