In the discussion of the United States’ international role and position of power, attention is usually drawn to the foreign and security policy challenges that the country faces. The discussion is often about how a war-weary United States, a country located in North America according to Thefreegeography, burdened by large government debt, will be able to deal with international terrorism, political turbulence in the Middle East and China’s increasingly strong position. Far less focus is placed on another challenge that poses an equal threat to the United States’ international leadership role, namely increasing internal political divisions and the decision-making problems that this creates.
- What is it about the inner life of the United States that weakens the country in foreign policy?
- How do the United States have decision-making problems?
- What are the reasons for increased political contradictions in the United States?
- Where do the main political lines of conflict go?
If the trend continues, the United States’ ability to act as a unified and powerful external player will be weakened. President Obama’s indecisive handling of the Syrian conflict is largely a result of internal divisions. It is probably also a foretaste of what will come in the years to come, regardless of who is president.
2: The decision problems
On October 1, 2013, large parts of the federal state administration had to close their offices, often referred to as the “government shutdown” . Only almost three weeks later did Congress succeed in adopting a new state budget to finance its operations. However, the closure caused by Republican opposition to Obama’s health care reform was just one of many examples of the decision-making problems and political strife that have plagued Washington for years. It has become difficult, in some cases impossible, to make decisions. Important national issues do not even get so far that they are put on the agenda.
Most experts agree that the United States needs to spend more money on education, innovation and infrastructure . Furthermore, they say that there is a need to reform the welfare schemes and the tax system . Yet Washington politicians are unable to agree on a compromise that will make this possible. Admittedly, in early 2014, for the first time in five years, they managed to agree on a state budget. But this was only possible because almost everything was as before. On the other hand, the handling of the major financial challenges was postponed. The political decision refusal was also the main reason why a leading international credit rating agency (Standards & Poor’s) downgraded the US credit rating in 2011.
Despair over not getting congress of the implementation of important measures meant that President Obama in his recent speech about the state of the country ( State of the Union Address ) on January 28 announced that from henceforth he would try to implement things on your own. However, this is just another proof that the decision-making process in Washington is not working. There is little the president can do without the participation of Congress.
3: Distribution of power – the right of the minority
The Constitution of the United States is based on Montesquieu’s principle of distribution of power : The state is divided between three states (legislative, executive and judicial) with direct elections to both the legislature and the executive. Unlike the parliamentary system, there is no formal link between the person in power and the composition of the Legislative Assembly. The American version of power distribution is designed to prevent concentrations of power and permanent minorities. Therefore, the Legislative Assembly is divided into two chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives. Proposals for resolutions need the approval of both chambers to be adopted as well as the support of the president. The president is endowed with the right of veto, which can only be set aside by a 2/3 majority in each of the two chambers of Congress.
The upper house of Congress – the Senate – also needs 60 out of 100 votes to end the debate and force a case to be voted on. If such a majority is lacking, senators can take advantage of a right to unlimited speaking time. That way, senators can delay or block a proposed resolution. We are talking about so-called filibuster – a blocking tactic . In the past, filibuster tactics were rarely used, but in the last couple of decades, proposals in many cases can only be adopted if you have the necessary 60 votes or more to get a case up for voting.
The USA has a complicated decision-making system where the institutions and the various actors balance and control each other. In order to make decisions, one is often dependent on forging cross-party coalitions together. This presupposes good contact between the institutions, the parties and individual politicians. The direct cause of the growing decision-making problems lies precisely in a growing disparity between this compromise-dependent political system and an increasingly strong party-political split . However, the growing distance between the parties is largely related to key developments in American society that create an increasingly politically and culturally divided population.. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons for the growing political contradictions: