Did Andrew Johnson actually break the constitution?

The US political system

M1 US Constitutional Scheme

The president plays a crucial role in the US government system. But even his oath of office makes it clear that he is firmly embedded in the framework that the United States Constitution gives him: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. "

Distrust as a system

The political foundation of the USA differs in many ways from the European ideas of state and politics. The designation "United States of America" ​​is also the program. Compared to the US states, the German federal states have little political independence and competence. Although the importance of the US federal government has increased over the past few decades (especially shaped by the crises of the 20th century), federalism remains strong in the US. The sheer size of the country, the size of the population and the social, ethnic and cultural differences have always favored the importance of the individual states. More than 80,000 government and administrative units of the states and federal agencies now exist side by side and testify to both the influence of Washington and the independence of the states.

The US political system is characterized by a basic distrust in any government. That is why the options for the executive at both the federal and state levels are severely curtailed by the opportunities for intervention by the respective legislature and judiciary. In addition, there is an extensive separation of responsibilities between the federal government and the individual states.

Further elements of the restriction of power are, on the one hand, the biennial Senate elections (one third of the Senate each), in which the population can punish unwelcome politicians and cause problems for the federal government through a new majority in the Senate. On the other hand, the term of office of the President, unlike that of the German Chancellor, is limited to two legislative periods. It is against this background that political life in the United States takes place - highly complex and confusing.

The distant relationship between the state, its authorities and the citizens is also reflected in the lack of mandatory reporting. There are no residents' registration offices or registers, there are no identity cards. The driver's license actually takes on the function of registration, because the holder is obliged to register their current place of residence. People can also be found using their social security number. And even if the monitoring possibilities of the modern digital world make the limitation of the traditional state access possibilities to the individual citizen seem harmless, one can nevertheless recognize a fundamental reluctance to state regulations and interventions.

Balanced power

The US government in particular is firmly integrated into a sophisticated and very effective system of checks and balances. The President does indeed have a number of extensive powers, but he is repeatedly dependent on the approval of Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In addition, Congress has control over government spending. The legislature, in turn, can be thwarted by the presidential veto. Above all stands the Supreme Court, which can stop decisions by the President as well as laws of the Parliament.

The following applies to the congress: its members belong to a political party, but are not fixed ideologically and programmatically, as is the rule in Europe. The political positioning of the American MPs is based more strongly on personal convictions and the will of the people in the domestic constituency. Faction discipline or compulsion are unknown, cooperation across faction boundaries is common. Congressmen spend significantly more time with their potential voters: an average of 80 to 120 days per year. They see themselves much more as representatives of the people, less as programmatically tied party members. Consistent adherence to the party line or unopposed approval of an unpleasant law introduced by the government, for example due to party-political considerations or massive pressure from the parliamentary group leadership or the federal government (e.g. the threat of a vote of confidence), is unthinkable in the US political system . The Congress sees itself as the control body of the government.

Parties in the USA

Anyone who expects European-style parties in the USA will be disappointed. They don't exist. European parties are usually program parties that are ideologically underpinned and address certain population groups or interest groups. The party names usually give an indication of the ideological and programmatic orientation. This causes a fragmentation of the party landscape in almost all European countries. Parties are tightly organized interest groups with a (mandatory) program, a legally required organizational structure and documented membership, which is linked to financial contributions to the party. In addition, the party members decide on the selection of candidates for political offices. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the requirements for a political party are even laid down in law - in the Law on Political Parties, or Party Law for short.

While the term “party” is relatively clearly defined in Europe, this statement does not apply to the USA: parties have no formal membership or even membership fees. But if you want to take part in the presidential candidate primaries, you have to register as a member. There is also no mandatory party program. Since there is neither a binding party program nor a formal membership, there is also no expulsion procedure. Local chapters are unknown. In contrast, in some places there are clubs where declared supporters of the respective party can meet and exchange ideas.

Since there is no formal party membership, one is considered a Democrat or Republican if one registers as a voter and declares his “affiliation” to a party - especially for the primary elections. Without this assignment, participation in the area code is not possible in most states.

The two big parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, have fundamental attitudes on a number of key issues. The Democratic Party is seen more as liberal and socially oriented, the Republican Party as more strictly market-based. The legalization of abortion is such a dividing line, as are positions on educational and environmental issues, in tax policy and on the limits of national debt. Since there is a majority vote in the USA, a two-party landscape has de facto developed. There are also smaller parties, such as the Green Party of the United States, but they usually do not play a major role in the election results. However, under special circumstances, even a small portion of the vote from a small party can determine the overall result. Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and Green Party candidate, achieved 92,000 out of six million votes in the 2000 presidential election in the state of Florida, thus taking so many votes from the Democrat Al Gore that the state passed the Republican George W. Bush (with only 543 Votes ahead) fell - who thus won the presidential race.

Independent candidacy for the presidency is also possible. Ross Perot, a Texas entrepreneur and millionaire, ran for election in 1992 (19 percent) and 1996 (8.4 percent). In 1995 he founded a new party, the Reform Party. At the moment it no longer plays a significant role at the national level.

The federal and state

The separation of competences between the states and the federal government is regulated by the constitution: the federal government only has the legislative powers that are clearly assigned to it. Everything else is up to the states. Each state has its own constitution, a directly elected governor, a bicameral legislature, its executive / administration and judiciary. The US federal government was originally only responsible for foreign and national security policy, but its influence has expanded significantly over time. In contrast, jurisdiction has largely remained in the hands of the states to this day. Even a decision as fundamental as for or against the death penalty rests with the states alone. The federal judiciary is only competent in questions of military jurisdiction and in a few criminal matters. The Supreme Court can intervene in the case law of the individual states if they violate the US Constitution. In 1972 he declared all death penalty laws null and void and converted the 629 death sentences into life imprisonment because the imposition was often arbitrary. After the states had revised the relevant regulations, the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty again.

In tax law, too, the US states and municipalities are generally more self-determined than the German states. But here, too, the picture has changed in recent decades due to the federal government's categorical grants. The federal government participates in the financing of state tasks, be it mandatory federal or state programs.

Demanding uniform living conditions in the various federal states, as the German constitution does, is inconceivable in the USA. The USA therefore does not have a financial equalization scheme like that between the federal states, although the living conditions in the individual states differ greatly. The system is more based on internal migration to the more affluent states.

A high-profile case of the conflict of competence between the federal government and the states is the nationwide order issued by the Obama administration to allow students to choose toilets and changing rooms according to their personal assessment of their gender. The cause was a law in North Carolina that denied this right. The Obama administration invoked the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the prohibition of gender discrimination. The Trump administration intends to overturn this ruling and return the decision to the states.

US presidential election


M2 (Getty Images, Munich)

Presidential elections are held every four years. Before the elections, the selection of candidates takes place. In a German democracy, the parties or their bodies / members decide on the selection of candidates for chancellor who represent the party's programmatic goals. This procedure is not found in the USA.

Those who aspire to the presidency assign themselves to one of the existing "parties" based on their basic stance on key social issues and declare themselves a candidate. In the primaries, the candidates compete against competitors from their own party. At a final party congress, the winner of the primary election will be chosen as a candidate for the presidential election campaign. What at first glance seems to be an easily understandable process turns into an extremely complicated, four-step process on closer inspection:

Step 1: The Primaries

The primaries are used to find a national candidate for the presidential election. They take place from January to June. As in the later presidential election, delegates are elected for the federal party convention, the national convention. These usually commit themselves to a specific presidential candidate from their party. In 2016, seven candidates ran for the Democrats in the first primaries, and there were twelve for the Republicans. Over time, the unsuccessful candidates give up until the most successful candidate (2016: Hilary Clinton / Donald Trump) emerges.

However, each party determines the rules for their primary elections and the counting of votes itself, and often differently from state to state. The delegates are distributed either in relation to the votes actually achieved (democrats) or according to the “winner-takes-all” principle, i.e. That is, the candidate with a relative majority of the votes receives all of the party's delegates in the state concerned (Republicans). However, not all states have primaries; instead, a “caucus” (general meeting) takes place in nine of the 50 states. While primaries are elected in writing, in the caucus party members gather in large rooms, discuss and are counted as supporters of one or the other candidate. Both forms of the area code exist in the state of Texas.

The complexity of the pre-code system is increased by the fact that, depending on the state, it is a matter of closed primaries or open primaries. In the open area code, all eligible voters are allowed to participate; party affiliation is not determined. So voters can vote for both Democrats and Republicans. In the closed form, only registered party members are allowed to vote; so you can only vote for one party. Intermediate regulations are the semi-open and semi-closed primaries.

Step 2: the nomination

Donald Trump was nominated for the presidential nomination at the Republican Congress on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, and the Democrat Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia. While Trump's most important competitor within the party refused to support, Clinton's only major competitor from the primary elections, Bernie Sanders, recommended Clinton - despite major differences in content - for the nomination. Then there were protests by Sanders supporters. The carnival atmosphere of the nomination party congresses could not hide the fundamental disputes between the candidates of the same party.

A majority of the votes is required to be nominated. Around 80 percent of all delegates are determined by the primaries, plus the so-called superdelegates, the non-obligatory delegates. They are members of Congress, governors, and party representatives. When the majority is tight, they tip the scales. However, most of the non-obligatory delegates declare themselves for a candidate in advance. Both Trump and Clinton had won a majority of their respective delegates during the primaries.

The nominated presidential candidate then determines the candidate for the office of vice president.

Step 3: the day of the election

In the USA, as in the primary elections, it is not the candidates themselves who are elected, but the citizens who vote for electors.

The actual election campaign begins with the nomination. The populous federal states are of central importance, because the candidate with a simple majority of the votes receives all voters of the state concerned (winner-takes-all). Since the number of voters depends on the size of the population, victories in the eleven most populous states are enough to win the election.

What is striking is the traditionally low turnout on Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In 2016, 42 percent of US citizens eligible to vote did not even vote. Hillary Clinton won 26.5 percent of the electorate, election winner Donald Trump 26.4 percent; however, he won significantly more electoral votes. Based on the votes cast, 46.1 percent of Americans voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton was ahead of Trump with 48.2 percent, but could not win the majority of the electorate. The candidates from other parties, including the Green Jill Stein or the libertarian Gary Johnson, only got 6.1 million votes (2.7 percent).

Step 4: The decision of the electoral body

On the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, the body of all electoral women and men meets. Since the determination of the primaries has to be complied with by law, the result has already been known since the votes were counted. The body does not meet in one place, but in each state. The votes then go to Washington, sealed and certified - and the president is officially and definitively elected.

The most powerful person in the world?

If you follow a US presidential election, you get the impression that the fate of humanity is at stake. After all, "the most powerful person in the world" is chosen. Indeed, the president occupies a central position in the US political system. But that is only the half truth. The President combines the office of the head of government and the highest representative of the USA.

As head of government he has sole responsibility for the national executive, ministers are called secretaries, i. That is, they work for the President and have no policy authority of their own. Unlike the Federal Chancellor in the Federal Republic of Germany, the American President, in his capacity as head of government, cannot introduce his own legislative proposals into parliament. For that he needs MPs who do this for him. The President can exercise a veto against laws passed by Congress, but this will be lifted by a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives. The right of veto is an important means of the executive to intervene in the legislative process and to influence or prevent unpleasant laws. In a veto situation there are therefore often compromises. Interesting: The president can by no means rely on the MPs of his own party, he often has to seek support from the other camp or his initiative does not materialize.

This situation can arise during the current term of office of the president especially if the majorities in the elections to the House of Representatives and Senate shift. In 2014 - in the middle of Obama's second term in office - the Republicans won a majority in both chambers. For the democratic president, the room for maneuver was drastically restricted.

Yes we can! - Really?

Springfield, Illinois, February 10, 2007: The Democrat Barack Obama announced his candidacy for the 2008 presidential election in front of an audience of 18,000. The location was well chosen and symbolic: 149 years earlier Abraham Lincoln had called here to abolish slavery. Obama's message was that he wanted to end the Iraq war, bring about the energy transition and create affordable health insurance for all citizens. “Yes we can!” Was his battle cry, which electrified not only in the USA.

When Obama handed over the presidency to his successor after two terms in office, the question arose as to what he had actually achieved after eight years. His official record, measured by the euphoric slogan and the facts, looks ambivalent. Spiegel Online headlined on January 10th, 2017: "Obama's balance sheet: brilliantly failed". There was also a comparison of his greatest successes and defeats. Both sides of the coin exemplify the role and scope of the American president - and these are quite limited. "Yes we can!" Was effective as an advertising slogan, but was it also a useful program?

The success side of the Obama years is filled by the reform of health insurance, the revival of the economy with a significant reduction in unemployment, the fight against climate change and the equality of sexual minorities.

On the other hand, there are major failures: the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan did not end in peace; Guantanamo still exists today; the financial crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 did not result in fundamental corrections and no one was personally held liable; ethnic differences persist; the gap between rich and poor is widening; the gun lobby thwarted any reforms; in terms of foreign policy, the USA is weakened; the Washington establishment and sections of the population have become further estranged. In addition, the national debt increased from 13.5 trillion (2010) to around 20 trillion (2016) dollars. State bankruptcy threatened as early as 2011 because the statutory debt limit of 14 trillion dollars (100 percent debt ratio) had been reached. In the negotiations between the President and Congress, the limit was raised and the crash averted.

Obama's overall record shows that the American president not only cannot do everything, but that his options are very limited. His office is convincing evidence of an intact system of separation of powers, checks and balances.

The president has a significant influence on the appointment of important officials in the military and the judiciary. The President appoints the members of the Supreme Court for life and thus significantly influences the supreme jurisdiction over the long term. However, the appointment of each new judge must be confirmed by a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Particularly in the case of a “divided government” (the president and the majority in one or both chambers of parliament belong to different parties), it is difficult to exert such influence on national judicature.

The President cannot be ousted from office by Congress by a vote of no confidence because he is neither a Member of Parliament nor is he elected by Parliament; there is the impeachment procedure for this - but only because of a criminal offense. Removal from office requires a corresponding resolution by the House of Representatives and then - following a judicial procedure - a two-thirds majority in the Senate. So far there has not been a single impeachment. In 1868 such a case was brought against Andrew Johnson for disregarding the rights of Congress. A single vote was missing for the two-thirds majority in the Senate. The President had appointed the Minister of War without the approval of the Senate. In 1999, Bill Clinton escaped impeachment in the course of the Lewinsky affair. It was not about the sexual misstep with an intern, but about the subsequent perjury and the obstruction of the judiciary. The impeachment failed due to the closed voting behavior of the Senators of the Democratic Party. However, there would have been an impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974. The Watergate affair would have led to a seemingly safe impeachment due to a series of illegal activities by the Nixon administration had the President not anticipated it by resigning.

The question of whether the president can start a war is clearly answered with "no" by the constitution. Congress has the right to declare war, but the president has a great deal of leeway in ordering military operations that are not linked to a formal declaration of war. But here, too, there are limits: Parliament's funding.

The Presidents of the United States since 1861


M3 Mount Rushmore National Memorial (Thinkstock (Lynn_Bystrom), Munich)

Donald Trump, businessman and billionaire, is the 45th President of the United States since George Washington was inaugurated in 1861. In fact, his profession has rarely been represented among American presidents. Most of the presidents (25) worked as lawyers or at least had a corresponding degree. Eight were entrepreneurs or farmers, four were professional soldiers; next to them there is an actor, an engineer, a teacher, an administrative officer, a historian with a degree in economics, another was a professor of classical philology. He (James Abraham Garfield, 20th US President, 1881) was shot dead in his fourth month in office. Two presidents are considered "professional politicians". Theodore Roosevelt was also the namesake for all teddy bears in the world.

A total of 21 assassinations of incumbent US presidents have so far been carried out, four with fatal consequences (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy); Roosevelt and Reagan were injured.

Thirteen presidents held office for two terms. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, served from 1933 to 1945. It was the longest tenure of any US president - he died during his fourth term. His successor, Harry S. Truman, did not stand for re-election in 1952. It would have been permissible because the limitation to two terms of office, which was only introduced by law in 1951 - until then merely a tradition introduced by George Washington - would not have applied to him. Grover Cleveland is the only president whose two terms are not consecutive: he is listed as 22nd and 24th president.

Nixon was the only one to step down from office (1974).

During the American Civil War there were actually two presidents: Jefferson Davis served as President of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865 (1861 split from eleven southern states; 1865 returned to the United States). He is therefore not considered President of the United States, but instead Abraham Lincoln. In addition to the first three Presidents of the USA (Washington, Adams and Jefferson), Lincoln (1861-1865) is particularly remembered.

The shortest term of office of a president was just one month: William H. Harrison died on April 4, 1841, one month after his two-hour inaugural speech, of complications from pneumonia. He had refused to wear a coat despite the cold March weather.

John F. Kennedy stands out as the only Catholic president to date, even though a quarter of the US population is Catholic.

After the Second World War the following presidents were in office:

Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama (the first colored President ), which was replaced by the current President Donald Trump in 2017.

Presidential List

1st President George Washington (1789-1797)
2nd President John Adams (1797-1801)
3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
4. James Madison (1809-1817)
5. James Monroe (1817-1825)
6. John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
7. Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
8. Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
9. William H. Harrison (1841-1841)
10. John Tyler (1841-1845)
11. James K. Polk (1845-1849)
12. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
13. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
14. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
15. James Buchanan (1857-1861)
16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
17. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
20. James A. Garfield (1881-1881)
21. Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
22. Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)
23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
24. Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)
25. William McKinley (1897-1901)
26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
27. William H. Taft (1809-1913)
28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
29. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
31. Herbert C. Hoover (1929-1933)
32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
33. Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
34.Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
35. John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
37. Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
38. Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
39. Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
40. Ronald W. Reagan (1981-1989)
41. George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
42.Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
43. George W. Bush (2001-2009)
44.Barack Obama (from 2009-2017)
45.Donald Trump (since 2017)

The subject in class

Possible tasks in politics class:

1. The road to the office of president is long and unusual by European standards. Explain the steps in the elections and what is unusual about the actual presidential election.

2. Although the power of the American president is great, it is clearly limited by the constitution. Derive from the scheme which powers the president is entitled to and where the limits of his influence lie.

3. Congress also plays a crucial role within the US political system. Describe the composition of the Congress, its duties and rights, and the limits of its power. Take into account the times for the House and Senate elections.


Keywords:
USA, system of government, political system, Trump, Obama


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