Over the past year, America’s political waters have been roiled by a host of investigations and revelations aimed at influencing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Republicans fired the opening shots by launching a congressional investigation of Hillary Clinton’s role in the deaths of U.S. embassy officials in Benghazi, Libya and another investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server to handle official State Department correspondence. Neither investigation led to the bringing of formal charges against Clinton but both convinced many Americans that the former Secretary of State was dishonest and untrustworthy. Republicans, indeed, charged that Clinton was spared prosecution only because her allies in the Department of Justice moved to protect her.
1. Presidential succession is governed by the Twentieth and Twenty-Fifth Amendments of the Constitution and by the Presidential Succession Act. Neither the amendments nor the act covers the possibility that the general election winner might die or become incapacitated before the Electoral College votes or that the apparent Electoral College winner might die or become incapacitated before electoral votes are officially counted by Congress. Either eventuality could throw the presidential succession into doubt.
One ongoing source of conflict between the president and Congress derives from what might be called their principal-agent relationship. When Congress enacts a law the executive is required to execute it. One might say that the president is serving as an agent for the Congress. Conflicts almost inevitably arise any relationship of this sort. Whether the agent is a president or a plumbing contractor, the principal is likely to find instances in which the agent did not follow the precise terms of the contract or, perhaps, failed altogether to fulfill the contract.
For more than 200 years, the tale of George Washington and the cherry tree has symbolized the virtue of America’s first president and, by his example, the importance of integrity as an attribute of political leadership. Unfortunately, the cherry tree story is a myth, concocted in 1806 by an enterprising preacher, Mason L. Weems, who hoped to bolster the flagging sales of his rather shallow biography of Washington. While it may seem ironic that an anecdote designed to highlight the importance of truth telling is, itself, a fabrication, this irony is precisely the significance of the story. Parson Weems’ fable helps to illustrate the duplicity and hypocrisy so often at the heart of the political process
The conflict within the GOP over the possibility of a Trump presidential candidacy has laid bare the various divisions within the Republican party. All political parties, to be sure, are composed of factions. The Democrats, however, will have little difficulty agreeing on Hillary Clinton. For some Republicans, Trump is a difficult pill to swallow.