OPINION: In preparing for January 2025, understanding Government 101 and History 101, only part of the problem

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Most students can explain that the American government is composed of three branches, each with its own separate function – a legislature (Congress) to make or pass laws, an executive (president) to enforce the laws passed by Congress, and a judiciary (Supreme Court and lower courts) to interpret laws. They understand the legislature is elected by the citizens for limited terms, but can be re-elected an unlimited number of times; that the president is elected by the electoral college, through the citizens’ votes, but for only two terms; and that the judges are appointed by the president for life. 

A number of subtle legal details surprising average citizens, however, have developed over the years. This means students often need more information to confront America’s political condition. 

Whether it’s American, Mississippian, African American, or World History, more details and well-documented facts are often not covered in class. Students are simply told that in 1787 the founding fathers developed a democratic republic, which has been expanding since that time. The human and civil rights problems that have been experienced by Africans, indigenous peoples, and other non-European Americans are generally glossed-over. If only the flowery things about the country’s history are impressed upon students – and often they are the only things – students become full-fledged citizens who are inadequately prepared, especially for the political condition in which the country will be fully embroiled come January 2025.

For starters, the country finds itself more deeply divided than perhaps at any time in its history. To add to the matter, more boldly than perhaps anyone else in its history, a clearly deranged and ambitious would-be dictator seems on the brink of becoming president again. It almost does not matter that the majority of Americans may not prefer that outcome if they are not informed enough, organized enough, and motivated enough to take the necessary actions to secure their professed desired outcome. Failure to act on their desires leaves those desires as only dreams for which there can be rude awakenings immediately.

The only thing that will snatch America from the jaws of authoritarianism will be the total defeat of Donald Trump and his “make America great again” devotees, the MAGA crowd. That includes the clear defeat of Trump as president, the clear victory of Democrats in both the Senate and the House, and the swift, decisive action by that Democratic Congress to fix what is broke regarding the Supreme Court. All three things are necessary.

If Donald Trump is elected in November 2024, the country will be far down-hill regardless of who controls Congress. With Republican control of Congress, it will be full steam ahead for Trump to do whatever he desires, since the Supreme Court is already in his pocket. 

If it becomes a Democratically-controlled Congress, but Trump is president, he is likely to use executive orders to get his way despite the Democrats. In such cases, the conservative Supreme Court majority would side with Trump’s order, extending his dictatorial powers. Even if a Democratically-controlled Congress passes laws to try and block him or curb his power, he will use his veto power to overcome its efforts. As a matter of fact, any progressive or just sensible laws passed by Congress, which he opposes, could be vetoed, with there being little chance of the veto being overridden. 

If Joe Biden is re-elected, but without Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, there may be very few laws passed; things would be at a standstill. Either the Senate or the House could block such laws. Without control of the House, the Republican MAGA-supporters could and likely would continue to investigate and harass Biden-appointees. Without control of the Senate, it would be difficult for Biden to get his nominees confirmed. Furthermore, any action that he tries to initiate through executive orders would be opposed by the Supreme Court.

It’s only if Biden is elected and the Democrats control both the House and Senate that the dangers and impediments to the development of full-fledged democracy can and will be addressed. If the Democrats control both, they can then pass protective and progressive laws without the fear of vetoes. Likewise, the president will not have to worry about using executive orders. Similarly, together the president and Congress can expand the Supreme Court so that it is no longer dominated by corrupt, right-wingers having bought into the MAGA-agenda of white nationalism. All of this can happen, however, only if the people who are committed to true democracy go to the polls and make it happen. 

From numerous indicators, documents, and media footage, we know where Trump and his supporters would like to take America. Therefore, within the next few months, the American people will simply have to decide how committed they are to understanding this system of government and using their knowledge and power to benefit from its features. If we are to go forward as a democracy based upon human rights and principles, we must study and understand this country’s history of racism and the levers to pull to minimize its impact.

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OPINION: In preparing for January 2025, understanding Government 101 and History 101, only part of the problem

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
June 25, 2024