The Blame for the Current Government Crisis: Not the Answer You Expected

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Is the Constitution Up to the Task?
American exceptionalism, for being an abstract idea, is a real aspect of American politics. Especially among those on the right -- see, e.g., Sarah Palin -- there is a belief that we are a blessed, unique nation (note the underlying theological tones). Part and parcel of American exceptionalism is a genuflection to the Founding Fathers, and their creation: the United States Constitution.

But what if we (the Founding Fathers) have written the seeds of our destruction into our founding document? There is a very real chance that the presidential democracy created by the Constitution may be our downfall if the government ceases to function as envisioned by the Constitution. Then there will be a "regime change"; that is, the collapse of our political system set in place by that document.

I do not mean to cry wolf, but the current government shutdown and looming debt ceiling crisis may be the first crack in the wall that means our foundation -- the Constitution -- is crumbling. Consider the following: Yale's Juan Linz in a classic 1990 essay posited that presidential democracies like ours, as opposed to parliamentary democracies (the United Kingdom is usually cited as Exhibit A), are more likely to end up as failed states, more prone to dictatorship and military coups. As Linz stated:

. . . the only presidential democracy with a long history of constitutional continuity is the United States . . . . Aside from the United States, only Chile has managed a century and a half of relatively undisturbed constitutional continutity under presidential government -- but Chilean government broke down in the 1970s.

That "breakdown" in Chile would be the dictatorship of General Pinochet.

But this is not simply based on Linz's theorizing. It has been demonstrated as an empirical fact:

Yes, we have found out that presidential systems are more vulnerable to moving toward non-democratic solutions. Parliamentary systems have been adjusting by themselves. If the government is not doing whatever the population wants in a parliamentary system, then the government is going to fall. In a presidential system, this really does not exist. This is something that empirically has been demonstrated. The likelihood of survival of democracy is much greater in parliamentary systems than presidential systems. The United States obviously is the big exception to that.

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