Articles of Impeachment ... and The State of American Civics

Will Americans even understand how significant this really is?

Publisher’s Riff

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As House Democrats soberly announced formal Articles of Impeachment against President Trump earlier today, there is some discourse suggesting that the general public won’t either be able to grasp or sympathize with the article outlining “obstruction of Congress.” That analysis is somewhat understandable: views on whether or not Trump should be impeached are still very much split almost evenly along partisan lines, as averaging from FiveThirtyEight shows ….

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And there is still a rather sizeable number of Americans who “approve” of the administration not cooperating with Congress, essentially approving of the “obstruction” as YouGov shows

Still, that conversation in and of itself is troubling. Accepting that there is a significant number of Americans who aren’t bothered by the open-air obstruction taking place hints at a first big step toward the erosion of a long maintained and very critical “separation of powers.” Congress’ primary function is to act as a check on the Executive, especially in a case where it’s determined he’s abused his power. Failure to do so makes Congress just as complicit in the abuse as the President.

Current public sentiment on obstruction is, yes, partly driven by partisan divide. But, the extent to which public ignorance of government institutions plays a role shouldn’t be dismissed here. Inability to grasp just how serious obstruction is might have a lot to do with this

2019 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey - % of people who can name the three branches of government

In the most recent Annenberg Constitution Day Civic Survey, just under 40 percent of all Americans polled could identify all three branches of government - nearly a quarter couldn’t name one. That’s a slight increase from the Survey’s 2017 findings (where just 26 percent could name all three), but that’s still worrisome. It suggests that most Americans, then, don’t understand and can’t explain crucial foundational concepts such as “separation of powers” and “checks and balances.” Bad enough there is a marked increase in the number of people, especially Republicans, who don’t care too much for those concepts, according to recent Pew research

Republicans Now Are More Open to the Idea of Expanding Presidential Power

Such faulty grasp of civics on the part of the broader public offers a grand opportunity for bad actors to not only manipulate systems, but to also dominate as repressive regimes and act as if it’s all normal and legit.

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