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Port: Make America Great Again with the presence of process

By Staff | Dec 30, 2016

If America was a person on your Christmas shopping list it would be that person who has everything and, as such, is almost impossible to shop for.

But there is something our nation needs this holiday season. After a surreal (to use Merriam-Webster’s word of the year) election year, we need a balm to sooth political agitation. We need some oil for our troubled social waters.

I have just the thing.

Our political leaders must stop valuing results more than process.

When we embrace the immediacy of political victories through executive fiats or court orders, when we eschew the toil of consensus-building through the legislative process, we sow the seeds of social unrest.

This is an ancient concept for humanity, dating back to the first laws written in Sumerian in Mesopotamia. It may sound obvious today, but writing down the law is one of the most important political innovations humanity has ever come up with.

Because the law, once written, becomes something apart from the whims of those who would govern. It becomes something predictable. Something relatively stable.

This is why autocracies – from dictators to monarchs – tend towards violence and political unrest.

But simply writing the law down isn’t enough. Equally important is the process through which the law is written.

Plenty of totalitarian governments have written laws, but if those laws can be changed through the capricious machinations of the ruling faction then it becomes hard to believe they represent the consent of the governed.

Democracy tends to be the most peaceful form of government not because elections always result in the correct decisions but because even when the wrong decisions are made the process makes the governed feel as though they at least had a say.

America’s success as a society is built upon the establishment of a process which, though far from perfect, aspires to represent the consent of the governed. But things are changing.

Vast swaths of our country – millions upon millions of voters – no longer feel as though they have a voice in the process of government.

This is why Donald Trump got elected. Whatever you may think of our President-elect, he sold voters on the idea that he’d make their voices matter again.

Left-wing activists who attempted to overturn the process through which Trump claimed victory by calling for faithless Electoral College voters to betray the voting majorities of their states only helped prove Trump right.

President Barack Obama’s lame duck push to implement sweeping new regulations – from coal mining regulations to a massive offshore drilling ban – before Trump takes office is another example.

Why are Americans so divided politically? Why is their so much rancor in governance today? I would argue that the rise in political unrest correlates closely to the amount of policy implemented through an ends-justify-the-means attitude of the sort embraced by President Obama.

The president, be it a Republican or a Democrat, implementing controversial policy through executive order will always create more anger than controversial policy resulting from legislation subjected to scrutiny by committees, votes in legislative bodies, and a veto review by the executive.

No policy will ever win over universal acclaim, but it can earn the respect even of dissenters if it is the result of an open and cooperative process.

That matters.

If President-elect Trump truly wants to “Make America Great Again” he can start by leaving behind Obama’s unilateral policy making. He must ensure the policies he implements are the result of process.

It would be appropriate for Trump to unwind some of President Obama’s executive orders with orders of his own, but beyond that Trump should seek to restore respect for laws written down through a process which represents the consent of the governed.

This is a tall order. The voters and the activists don’t want the broccoli of cooperative politics.

They want the sweet candy of getting their way.

I have a feeling Trump will want to satisfy the latter impulse, but the former is something which could lead America into a more stable and peaceful era.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.

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