This post is for my non-U.S. friends, and for my U.S. friends who haven’t bothered to learn. I kind of get Britain, but Canada seriously confuses me. I can’t even figure out how they arrange their postal zones or geographic divisions, much less their government.
So if you’re as clueless about the U.S. as I am about Canada, here goes. Ahem. (Drum roll.) Long ago and far away, once upon a time, the U.S. was a colony of Britain. (Wasn’t everything?) Then we fought a war and won. Now what?
So the so-called Founding Fathers, who have been all but canonized here, came up with this document called the Constitution. It lays out general guidelines for how we would govern ourselves. We being new at it and all.
The chief idea is that power would be spread out amongst three separate branches of government, which are supposed to have equal power and act as a system of checks and balances. The idea was not to concentrate power in the hands of one tyrannical leader, such as the hated George III.
These three branches are the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. This means, the President, Vice-President, and Cabinet (Executive), Congress (which consists of two bodies, the House of Representatives and the Senate–seems to me like the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Britain), and the Judicial Branch, namely, the Supreme Court. Each of these branches has certain controls over the other. On the surface, it would appear that Congress has the most power, since they make the laws. But the President can veto them–but Congress can override the veto. There usually isn’t much appetite for that. But the point is, that’s the first check. The President can veto a law or sign it. Nothing becomes law unless the President agrees.
Then, finally, there is the Supreme Court. If a law gets past both the President and the Congress and someone challenges it, the Supreme Court decides whether it’s in keeping with the Constitution. If not, in their opinion, the law is nullified. Then, Congress can go make a new law and the process starts all over. In essence, therefore, I’d say the Supreme Court wields the most power.
The people on the Supreme Court are nominated by the President, but must be approved by the Congress, so it’s all interwoven.
This brings me to gun control. Sorry to sneak that in. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, verbatim, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. The Supreme Court, most recently in 2010, confirmed that this includes individual ownership of guns, not just as a member of a “militia”. (Whatever that is or was.)
So why are we still talking about it? I’ll tell you my opinion. Sheer paranoia. Because there is a segment of the population in the U.S. which is distrustful of the government, and believes without constant vigilance that we will turn into Nazi Germany tomorrow. That’s a disconnect from reality.
For the umpty jillionth time, let me say that I’m for gun ownership. Not that anyone believes me, because I think there should be greater control and accountability. That gets me lumped in with the “Ban Guns” people. Another disconnect from reality. But in the U.S., no one is coming to take away your guns. Perhaps you are anti-hunting, which is your right, but technically you would have to be a vegetarian to be consistent. Ever seen how they kill cows? Perhaps you’d like to be Ghandi, and die rather than commit violence against another person. Not me.
The point is that we do live in a nation of laws. This is not Somalia. It’s imperfect, but as Winston Churchill pointed out in 1947, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. And technically, we don’t live in a democracy. I think of democracy as mob rule. We live in a Republic, with representative government. Sometimes those representatives have to go against the wishes of their constituents to do the right thing. And thank goodness for that. Otherwise we would still have slavery, women couldn’t vote, and we would still be killing Native Americans.