Sunday crunch – thoughts to put you off your dinner

The slippery slope to barbarism


Barbaric regimes generally do not become barbarous overnight – once they take power they usually take stock for a while before ratcheting up their control, persecution and inhumanities. The worst excesses of the Nazis did not come immediately after Hitler took power but gradually over the next ten years. He was able to do this because the checks and balances present in democratic states were absent or insufficient in Germany in the 1930s and, where they did exist, Hitler’s dominance allowed him to ride roughshod over them.
Checks and balances in constitutions apply restraints on Presidents and would-be dictators and authoritarian Prime Ministers alike. Parliaments represent the people and part of their vital role is to place checks on the executive. Donald Trump and Theresa May are “suffering” from these checks at the moment – we must hope that the checks continue to constrain them! Both Trump and May rail at those who stop them doing what they want to do. The Nancy Pelosis and Dominic Grieves are the heroes who stop Trump and May slipping too far down the slope – at least they have so far.
The principal characteristic of totalitarianism is the denial and then destruction of opposition. It’s worth remembering that virtually every 20th Century dictator sent his opponents to the Gulag or the Firing Squad. In a democracy this is more difficult (!) so elections have to be the way forward. In June 2017 Theresa May wanted to strengthen her hand in the House of Commons so she called a General Election in which she expected a landslide victory over Jeremy Corbyn. But the British people were not to be fooled. All of May’s subsequent difficulties emanate from this cataclysmic misjudgement. Rather than creating a submissive Parliament it established an emboldened one!
In the United States the constitution with its firm distinction between the Executive (including the President), Congress and the Judiciary protects the nation from too much excess. Trump is a dangerous windbag, but he is checked by the constitution. The damage he has wreaked is considerable – but it would be orders of magnitude more so were it not for Congress and the Supreme Court, and were it not for the democratic restraint put on the man by the mid-term elections.
Theresa May is still calling for her recalcitrant rebels to come into line. The “National Unity” card is being played again and again. But in a democracy parliaments’ duty is to stand up to would be dictators and so far, on both sides of the pond, they have performed that role admirably. If we are to survive the current turmoil it is Parliament and Congress that we will have to thank for it. More power to their elbows.

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