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The perils of presidentialism in the 2020s


More than 30 years ago, the Spanish political scientist Juan Linz published what would become a famous article, arguing that presidential systems modeled on that created by the US Constitution were inherently unstable, because they created two institutions that could make competing claims that they each represented the legitimate source of sovereign authority: The legislature and the executive.

He illustrated his arguments with many examples from the Americas; at the same time, he explained the relative stability of the US model by citing the the historical tendency of the major political parties in the US to be loose coalitions, rather than ideologically coherent and strategically disciplined entities.

The latter circumstance was already changing rapidly at the time Linz wrote his piece, and of course today the situation is radically different in this regard.

How different? Consider that the standard response of Republican members of Congress to questions about whether Joe Biden won the 2020 election is now that Biden is president because Congress certified his victory, whatever troubling questions may have existed and of course still exist about irregularities, changed election rules, due process, etc. etc.

The subtext of this response is becoming increasingly clear: As we’ve been pointing out here at LGM recently, Republicans have no intention of certifying the victory of a Democratic presidential candidate after the 2024 election, if they control both houses of Congress at that point.

What this illustrates is that the formal mechanics of US presidential elections, which require a whole bunch of ministerial hoop jumping at both the state and federal level, with all of that larded on to the top of the entire Electoral College nonsense, are collectively a kind of loaded gun that’s been lying around, waiting for a quasi-Leninist party to pick it up, and shoot our whole increasingly rickety political system right in its metaphorical temple. (This may be the best thing for it, really — its therapy is going nowhere).

Anyway, since obviously Democrats can’t unilaterally disarm if and when Republicans decide that presidential elections that they lose don’t count, we may be evolving toward a kind of quasi-parliamentary system, without bothering to first revise our essentially non-revisable Constitution.

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