A UK professor brings a foreigner’s perspective to “peculiar” U.S. institutions and finds us wanting.
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Still on the subject of the presidency, King says he looks forward to the day when the U.S. follows the examples of the United Kingdom and Germany and many other liberal democracies in choosing a woman to be their head of government.
He goes on to cite the lack of a mechanism in the Constitution for national referendums, which he interprets as “democracy thwarted in democracy’s home.” The Founding Fathers, who mistrusted excessive consultation with the people, would be delighted, he adds. On the other hand, maybe national referendums are a bad idea in such a big country, because they would be divisive and create an “enormous body of losers, many of whom… might well feel deeply aggrieved.”
The unelected, unaccountable, and secretive Supreme Court gets the harshest treatment, for what he calls its anti-democratic powers. He calls up the outcome of the 2000 Bush-Gore election as a fresh example. Although the uncertainty in the vote count concerned only Florida, “the people of Florida were not given the opportunity — as they would have been in most other countries — to vote again. A supremely political decision… was not taken by the people but by unelected judges.”
He is “amazed” that the people, “seemingly reverentially,” accepted the Court’s decision without question.
And yet, to help balance his theme of strangeness in the American system, he concludes with some kind words. “Some Americans, probably the great majority, are relaxed, tolerant, easygoing… comfortable with diversity and have a generally live-and-let-live approach to life.”
He even attempts to explain why the 18th century Constitution still sort of works. “It brings together what otherwise might fall or fly apart. It is an object of worship because Americans badly need a solid core of institutions and objects which they all feel that they can worship together.”
King’s somewhat second-hand opinions on the U.S. system might seem less peculiar if he tried two things: first, compare American shortcomings with British or other European shortcomings. (I live in France and wouldn’t know where to start, the strangeness is so omnipresent.) And second, go see how the U.S. hodge-podge actually works. He just might like it enough to do a Christopher Hitchens and take up naturalization.