American Governmental System as Reflection of Power Balance Within Society

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The American system of government, born out of a revolutionary movement, aimed to create a truly democratic state on the American land. However, while many important freedoms were proclaimed, the government, in essence, borrowed many features from the British monarchy. Instituting the system of checks and balances, the government allowed wide powers to President, and the system of courts was often ineffective in bringing justice. This paper hypostatizes that the very design of legislative, executive and judicial powers is geared to benefit those in American society who are wealthy, powerful, and organized.

Historically, the American legislature established the division of powers and granted Congress the right to adopt laws that were supposed to benefit the American society. The executive power vested in President was extensive since he could veto the ruling of Congress. Appelbani (p. 8) compares a president to “an uncrowned king with sweeping powers, whose […] hand would […] check the factionalism of Congress.” The American division of powers, established to prevent the formation of coalitions, could well function in the circumstances of political pluralism. However, due to “the nationalization of politics, the geographical-cultural partisan split, and consistently close elections”, political pluralism was reduced to two parties (Drutman). The consequences of a two-party system — stress on political loyalty and discipline – have in recent years become evident in the unwillingness of the parties to compromise (Reid). Indeed, the intended deal-making between the two parties where neither can get the upper hand turns into a fight for posts in Congress seen as a major victory for this or that party.

The US Congress, first of all, is the place where the money of the federal government is distributed. The party that wins the majority of seats may have a final say in the money distribution as it allows to promote party policies at the national level. Congressmen often vote for projects that are useless or harmful to the country and have only the benefit of money redistribution among elite groups. While officially parties work for the public’s good, they often lobby the interests of groups that financially support the election process, leading to political sectarianism (Finkel and Wang). The biggest heavyweight beyond the parties are financial organizations which include such areas as investments, banks, insurance and development. Paying for election campaign and advertising, these companies count that politicians would stay loyal to them and promote their interests in Congress.

The second group is the military-industrial complex and special services. These elites have a more complex structure and system of relationships. Initially, the elites are fighting for preferences in the development and adoption of the budget, so the Pentagon and intelligence use representatives of both parties as lobbyists. Then the competition begins between internal groups: the department of the defense and individual offices of special services (FBI, CIA, NSA). Finally, when the budgets of the military and special services go through all stages of approval, the largest corporations seek to obtain profitable government orders.

It can be further argued that many military campaigns were started not for the public’s good, but to let military corporations have their share of federal budget. Due to this fact, the unique right of Congress to declare war was disputed. Wertheim (para 15) writes, “A Representative [] of Indiana wanted to put war powers directly in the hands of the people []. More than 70 percent of the public supported the measure, but the House of Representatives rejected it by a narrow margin in 1938.” Thus, the interests of military corporations overrode people’s will, which testifies to the fact that not all people have equal representation.

The military and financial corporations that use Congress to lobby their interests, have their people in the judicial system as well. It is worth pointing out that the judges of the Supreme court have a life tenure, that is why these positions are influential within the governmental structure (Epps and Sitaraman). Financing party’s primaries and election campaigns corporations see to it that key people are loyal to the companies’ interests. German says it is useless to report crimes in the FBI and military system as the government does nothing but cover up for high-ranking officials. Thus, the courts guard the interests of wealthy and powerful in all situations.

Moreover, the influence of the elites is instrumental in forming an American worldview. The most popular topics in American society are abortion, free access to weapons, ecology and international politics. Over the past two years, representatives of these sectors have spent millions on lobbying, promoting their interests. The purpose of conservative elite groups is to promote traditional family values, finance conservative politicians, and defend the American capitalist model. Their funds direct money both to the Republican Party and to its individual members. They conduct extensive media campaigns that highlight the activities of conservative universities. Liberal America, unlike conservatives, has more serious media tools, and it relies on broad segments of the population, including millions of illegal immigrants. At the same time, within each of these elites (conservative and liberal) there are also separate associations and groupings that oppose each other.

Another worrisome sign is the decomposition of norms; the US law is based on precedent and once the ruling is made to benefit powerful and wealthy, it is likely to be copied in the future. Many of the citizens’ rights are not written in the Constitution which raises the question of how they are protected and gives ground to flaunt them. Chafetz and Pozen ( p.1149) claim that “constitutional norms can be dynamically interpreted [], the potential for such reinterpretation puts ongoing pressure on [] their capacity to constrain the conduct of government officials”. While the government has leverage to deal with norm decomposition through sanctions and punishment, ordinary citizens have significantly fewer chances to combat it. Thus, norm decomposition that benefit the government is more likely to take roots than the one that benefit the people (Chafetz and Pozen, pp. 1147-1452). Moreover, since the power is concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, governors see to it that norm decomposition takes place only where it benefits the elites.

The government’s failures to improve life of the masses had led to many disputes whether the American system of government can truly be called a democratic one. Initially built to institute government by the people for the people it turned into the government of the elites that promote the interests of corporations. However, the chances are that the situation is likely to change as people’s voice becomes more pronounced. Many civil rights movements engage in promoting civil rights in the political field. Their efforts will not be spent if everyone makes their contribution to the transformation of American legislative system into a fair and representative one.

Works Cited

Chafetz, Josh, and David E. Pozen. “How Constitutional Norms Break Down.” UCLA L. Rev. 65 , 2018, pp. 1431-1459.

Lane, Charles. “Keep Government Hands off Free Speech”, The Washington Post, 2019.

Appelbaum, Yoni. “America’s Fragile Constitution”, The Atlantic. 2015, pp. 1-18.

German, Michael. “The Law is Designed to Punish Whistleblowers Like Me”. The Washington Post, 2019.

Finkel Eli J. and Wang Synthia S. “The Political Divide in America Goes Beyond Polarization and Tribalism”. Politics & Elections. 2020.

Epps, Daniel and Sitaraman, Ganesh. “The Future of Supreme Court Reform”. Harvard Law Review. 2021

Drutman, Lee. “America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared”. The Atlantic. 2020

Reid, Harry. “The Filibuster Is Suffocating the Will of the American People”. The New York Times. 2019, pp. 1-3.

Rodríguez-Teruel, Juan, and Jean-Pascal Daloz. “Surveying and observing political elites.” The palgrave handbook of political elites. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2018, pp. 93-113.

Werthein, Steven “End the Imperial Presidency”. The New York Times. 2021

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DemoEssays. "American Governmental System as Reflection of Power Balance Within Society." December 31, 2022.