Rob Riemen: How much faith do you have in American democracy?
Roger Berkowitz: Um…that’s a hard question for me to answer. I have a lot of faith in the American system of government. To me, a big part of the reason America’s been successful and stable as a free government for two hundred and thirty or forty years, depending how you count, is not because of American democracy per se—although that’s part of it—but because we created a constitutional republican federal democracy that prevented power from concentrating in any one place.
The great danger and fear that I have is that in the last fifty to seventy years, power has increasingly concentrated not only in the federal government but in the presidency. And we talk about so-called imperial presidency in the United States, the President has more and more more power. And part of that is because Congress has abdicated its power. Because they don’t want to pass the most controversial laws, or they don’t want to get controversy at all because they want to raise money. And if you raise money, you don’t want to be on record doing this or that.
And so they pass general laws and then leave the implementation of the laws to the Executive Branch, to the administrative agencies. The administrative agency is run by the President, the president obtains more and more power. And that is to me the most dangerous trend in American politics, is the imperial presidency. I think we need to reinvigorate Congress, the legislative. But I also think we need to reinvigorate the states and state government. But even beyond that, local governments. I think we need to bring back the fun in politics. And politics is only fun if people think they have power.
So if you organize locally and you have no power, at some point you stop. That’s what scares me. And so I think what we’re seeing right now on the left and the right are disempowered American citizens saying, “We want power.” And they form the Tea Party. And they form Occupy Wall Street.
That’s the good news. The bad news is as soon as they actually have to take responsibility with that power, tax themselves, govern themselves, they sort of disappear and say you know, “We don’t want that. It takes time. It takes money. It’s difficult. It’s not easy.” It’s actually hard. And it takes time and no one seems to want to spend the time on self-government anymore.
And so my worry is that these movements will become simply safety valves for anger, but not actually lead to a reinvigoration of democracy. My hope is that they will lead to a reinvigoration of democracy, and that people will start to become involved again in self-government all throughout the American system of government.
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