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. 

Further Reference

Democracy Today in the USA event page