Williamstown As the United States begins its 243rd year of independence, Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) has announced his independence from the Republican Party. Leaving one’s party is an act that both unlocks the chains that bind politicians to a political party and frees the politician to fight for the separation of powers between the branches of government.
Democrats may cheer the break in Republican unity in support of President Trump. Republicans may call it a political stunt since Amash’s future as a Republican is bleak. Cutting through the spin, the congressman has made it clear that he is acting as a trustee of the Constitution, not a handmaiden to a political party.
While the political commentary centers on the congressman’s call for impeachment of the president, the state of the nation he addressed in his announcement is more complex. The federal government cannot pass necessary appropriation bills, manage immigration, control its debt or even determine when it is appropriate to declare war. Congress has become a bystander to a law-making process run by the White House and the courts.
Rephrasing the question Delegate James Wilson asked at the Constitutional Convention—Can we forget for whom we are forming a government? Is it for citizens or for political parties?
Presently almost every major action taken by the people running our government is a Republican action or a Democrat action. David Davenport, writing in Forbes, estimates that around 90 percent congressional votes are party-line votes.
Our Constitution does not mention political parties. Our founders were blunt. In James Madison’s “The Federalist 10,” political parties were considered “factions,” a number of citizens united and actuated in a common interest, adverse to other citizens or the community. These parties inflamed partisan conflict with “mutual animosity, and rendered them more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”
Rep. Amash’s declaration of independence is a first step toward forming a government that works for citizens, not politicians. In “The Federalist No. 46,” Madison suggests that government should function as trustee of the people.
A government official’s duty as a trustee is created when that person voluntarily assumes a position in government. Each government position requires the official to freely take an oath to support the Constitution. We entrust these officials with our money, property, liberty and defense of our country. They must never act for personal benefit or the benefit of any political party.
All actions of the official must continuously ensure the separation of powers among the branches of government. A trustee’s duty merely reaffirms what the oath imposes. Loyalty must be to the Constitution and the institution in which one serves to defend against tyranny.
As Republicans or Democrats seek to achieve the interests of their political parties, each party blames the other for whatever failings occur. While both parties constantly rail against the massively increasing national debt, both parties blame the other for the increases. Factually however, both parties are to blame. Every president since 1980 has added substantially to the debt. The two parties find it more rewarding to blame the other than to run the nation for the benefit of citizens.
Since members of Congress function only as politicians, their conduct prevents the institution of Congress from being both the primary lawmaker and a check on the other branches. This failing allows the executive to rule by executive order, regulation, “pen and a phone” or tweet. Without a functioning Congress, policy is also made by courts, and judge shopping ensures that the court where the filing occurs agrees with the position of the political party filing the lawsuit.
Citizens need to continually remind themselves that political parties are nothing more than special interest groups created for one purpose—to control the U.S. government and its resources. The two main political parties have so successfully captured control of our government that the institutions of government are irrelevant.
Government officials cannot ultimately be loyal to a political party while also ensuring the separation of powers mandated by our Constitution. Such divided loyalty does not protect citizens as it would if the officials remained loyal to the institutions in which they serve and functioned as trustees of the people. Congressman Amash is now our first trustee!
This article was first published in The Hill on July 9.2019.