Bill Walker: The cure for Trumpism

For the Monitor
Published: 1/18/2018 12:25:06 AM

Advocates of limited government since George Washington warned against giving all power to one man or even one branch of government. Unfortunately, they were ignored. Now the power to launch nuclear missiles is in the very large, very stable genius hands of Donald Trump.

The U.S. Constitution contains extensive checks and balances and separations of powers. The U.S. president has no constitutional power to launch wars. Yet the last time that Congress was fully involved in a war decision was in 1943.

Since World War II, presidents simply sent the troops and bombs out at a whim. Barack Obama launched an unprovoked war against Libya, George W. Bush attacked Iraq because it didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, Bill Clinton unilaterally fired cruise missiles at the Lewinsky newspaper headlines (but missed and hit a worm-medicine factory in Sudan), and so on back to the undeclared wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The War Powers Act of 1973 was a watered-down attempt to make Congress at least pretend to pay attention to foreign policy. But it, too, has been systematically ignored. The U.S. military currently runs operations in dozens of countries with no congressional authorization.

Then we have the wars at home. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is trying to revive Franklin Roosevelt’s moribund Reefer Madness war on marijuana. He is claiming that he can override state laws and send federal agents to arrest any marijuana user.

There is no constitutional amendment giving Sessions any such power since the repeal of Prohibition. Sessions is using the FDR-era precedent of the Roscoe Filburn case, which since 1942 has been used to evade the Constitution’s limits.

Roscoe was an Ohio farmer who grew wheat for his own cows. The Supreme Court claimed in Wickard v. Filburn that simply by existing in this universe, Filburn “affected” interstate commerce, and thus the federal government could force him to stop planting his own wheat.

The Filburn precedent was used in the 2005 Gonzales v. Raich case, to apply to medical-marijuana plants grown by patients themselves and prescribed by doctors. As Justice Clarence Thomas said at the time, “By holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power.”

So now voters have no way to protect patients in their own states against federal policy that makes marijuana a deadly “Schedule One” drug along with heroin.

Trump’s unilateral anti-immigrant actions are similarly backed up by federal legal hallucinations. The Constitution gives the federal government power only over “naturalization,” i.e. who can vote in federal elections. But the steady erosion of separation of powers has made Trump into a czar, who cannot only harass H1-B visa employees that are vital to U.S. tech companies, but can break up families and deport young adults who have spent their whole lives in the United States.

Trump’s “budget,” if you can call it that, shows the absence of checks and balances on federal spending. He simply increased spending on everything while pretending to “cut taxes.” More resources are diverted from individuals and state budgets to the federal government, and they are funded Zimbabwe-style, by inflation instead of visible, accountable taxes.

The remedy for Trumpism, as for any other personality cult, is not to replace him with another “very stable genius.” The solution is to decentralize power.

The power to declare offensive wars, and to decide which if any dictators to support, must be returned to Congress and be made transparent. The U.S. people don’t want to support Saudi kings, Afghan warlords or Syrian “moderate terrorist groups.” Only secrecy allows these outrages to continue.

Power over economic and social policies must return to the 50 states, so that they can serve as laboratories for policies – “A-B testing” for laws. Top-down central-planning systems never worked well anywhere in history, and to try to return to totalitarian hierarchy in the age of the internet is pure denial of reality.

The cure for Trumpism is the U.S. Constitution.

(Bill Walker works for medical-imaging database company M2S in West Lebanon.)

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