One of America’s most cherished political tenets is that no individual can serve as President for more than two terms. But this was only codified with the passing of the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution in 1947. Before then there were no limits; an individual could serve as many terms as long as they were duly elected. It wasn’t till after Franklin D. Roosevelt (the 32nd president) won four consecutive elections, and died while in office, that the Congress decided to introduce term limits. Prior to that, the self-imposed two-term limit had been an unofficial pattern established by George Washington and his contemporary successors. Was this law a subtle condemnation of the FDR legacy for his defiance of presidential tradition? No. But it was a prudent safeguard to prevent that practice from becoming a precedent.
The passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg couldn’t have come at a more tenuous time in American politics. President Trump, along with the Republican-controlled Senate, is poised to appoint a third member to the Supreme Court. The ramifications of this action, especially for the Democrats and left-leaning Americans, is that it firmly tilts the body in the conservatives’ favour. Needless to say, this could set back the liberal agenda for an entire generation, as well as see a reversal of key pieces of legislation.
But this is just the most recent in a series of questionable behaviours that the current administration has willingly and repeatedly engaged in.
Political systems shouldn’t discount the role that both precedent and tradition play in shaping its institutions. The notion that not everything requires a law is based on the assumptions that individuals can act with a sense of morality. But, as we’ve seen in politicians the world over, and with this administration especially, is that morals will be quickly abandoned if there is something to be gained.
The issue here, beyond the ideological concerns, is that the same-Republican-controlled Senate, who are now insistent that the vacancy be filled, once refused to do so. And their once-touted rationale that it shouldn’t be done in an election year is being conveniently ignored.
But then we shouldn’t be surprised, neither by this president nor by the party he represents and supports him.
From condoning and consorting with foreign powers, to circumventing congressional oversight, to using violence against American citizens who are exercising their first amendment right to peacefully protest, this president has no scruples about breaking with norms. One can only imagine what he is capable of if elected to a second term.
What separates a properly functioning democracy from a dictatorship is accountability. And that not only means to the law, but to one’s own conscious. If they can so easily disregard their sense of right and wrong, then there is nothing they won’t do… there is no action they can’t rationalise.
The irony regarding filling the Ginsburg vacancy is that, yes, there is nothing [legally/constitutionally] standing in the way of the Senate to proceed with filling it. But this action invites further challenges to its democratic institutions and norms, be it now or in the near future.
You know the adage “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? Well, we should all be concerned that America maybe on that road.