In this crazy time in U.S. politics, many Canadians look south of the border, and wonder ‘what the hell is going on,’ as the system is very puzzling, even though they know a great deal about it (more than Americans will ever know about Canada). For Canadians, here are the five most puzzling aspects of the U.S. system.
- The President is not all powerful legislatively. In fact, a Prime Minister with a majority government has more political power. The President’s power stems from his mostly absolute power over the military and nuclear arsenal, plus U.S economic pre-eminence and worldwide Armed Forces presence.
- The U.S. government is something like a taffy pull: the President appoints, the Senate advises and consents (or not). The House and Senate pass a bill that the President can veto but they can overturn that, too. The Supreme Court can nullify legislation, as the final Constitutional authority. Each has a check and balance over the other.
- The Impeachment option is murky and difficult to understand. If the Canadian prime minister (or most individuals in a Parliamentary system) had committed just a fraction of the current President’s misdeeds, there would have been a prompt ‘no confidence’ vote, with a new government formed almost immediately.
- The impeachment (or indictment) process is purposefully arduous, with the House’s vote coupled with a trial in the Senate and only Bill Clinton and Abraham Lincoln’s former VP Andrew Johnson have endured the humiliation but both won the Senate vote and maintained their office. In fact, the Senator who cast the Johnson’s deciding vote said it would be a ‘bad precedent’ to remove a President from office. The country’s stuck with that one ever since.
- Prime Ministers can easily resign, largely for political reasons – one who did, Brian Mulroney, was an honoured guest, sitting in the front row at former First Lady Barbara Bush’s funeral. Only one U.S. president (Nixon) has resigned, and that was due to the shameful Watergate cover up, and he would have been tried and convicted had he not quit.
And there are many more quirky little differences that Americans don’t understand about Canada (next article).