The 2016 US Election has been, as they would say, a ‘dumpster fire’. The media have graded one candidate on a curve, and the discussion has been almost entirely about personalities. There does not appear to have been any sustained news cycle dedicated to policy. Indeed, even the discussion of actual policies in the debates was atrocious.
It’s clear that the country is incredibly polarised. Nevertheless, I still admire the American political system.
One silver-lining of the Trump candidacy is that there has been plenty of discussion about the US system. I don’t mean admiration for the electoral college (although I’ve heard some good arguments for its retention recently) but more simply and fundamentally, the fact that everything is subordinate to the Rule of Law, and a Constitution which places and incredibly strong emphasis of individual rights and protections against government over-reach.
This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but recent events elsewhere in the world have made me particularly appreciate the American approach.
The first thing on my mind is the situation in Turkey, where an anuthoritatian president has been able to leverage vague laws that do not prioritise the citizen over the state. In recent weeks, President Erdoğan has imprisoned journalists and shut down newspapers.
The second comparison on my mind is the British political system. The recent High Court ruling on the manner in which Article 50 will be invoked has highlighted the fact that our unwritten constitution is deeply muddled, and how much political power resides in the archaic and undemocratic concept of ‘Royal Perogrative’. And parliament’s decision to wave through the deeply illiberal Investigatory Powers Bill is the perfect illustration of how perilous our civil and human rights are in British law. Our rights to privacy, free speech and the rest are not embedded in a foundational constitutional document but in an international treaty (the European Convention on Human Rights, something to which our Prime Minister has expressed hostility) and within a regular statute (the Human Rights Act) which our new Secretary of State for Justice has affirmed she intends to repeal.
It’s easy for Brits to condescend to Americans when we see how the separation of powers in their system causes congressional gridlock, or how the populist primaries allow for the rise of a clown like Donald Trump. And it is also hard not to criticise the rigidity of the U.S. Constitution when the 2nd Amendment seems to result in so many gun deaths.
But the point is this: the American system and constitution provides better protections against the rise of a strongman like Trump or Erdoğan, than the ambiguous British system offers. That is something to admire and to emulate.