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Opinion: The American System Reviews Itself - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The majority of Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and she won the popular vote by at least one million votes. However, the presidency went to her rival Donald Trump because he won the electoral college. This contradiction previously occurred in the 2000 elections, and calls for the reform of the electoral system increased as a result. It seems that Congress listened and is prepared to review it.

In spite of the large amount of self-criticism and the multiplicity of its defects, the American system is considered to be one of the best Western democracies compared to parliamentary systems such as the French and the British ones. After every election season, criticism increases about the interference of major companies who promote candidates through donations, super PACs and lobbyists. This was criticised by Trump himself and he promised to reform the matter although this is doubtful.

However, the system itself is more transparent than others and there is more balance between the authorities. The president has considerable power but it is not absolute as there are counter balancing authorities in the legislative councils that are responsible for accountability and auditing. The president also appoints his ministers rather than the party, but congress has the final say.

Despite the magnitude of the US government, it does not have more than fifteen ministers. This is a small number compared to the ministers of a small country like Lebanon whose latest government has 24 ministers. The president does not meet with them directly in their capacity as the cabinet as is the case in most countries in the world. Some believe that one of the defects of the American system is that the president appoints the judges to the Supreme Court, only when there is a vacant position, and the position of a judge is for life or until the judge cannot perform his/her duties.

Unlike European systems, it is not permissible for government ministers to be members of the Congress. Rather, they must choose one option. On the other hand, all ministers are members of parliament or the House of Lords in Britain and France, and whoever becomes a minister from outside of these institutions is appointed to the House of Lords. The president does not have the right to interfere in the affairs of Congress, and he only leads it once a year. The authorities are separate and neither of them can impose their decisions on the other.

The president and his government, namely the executive authority, is separate from the legislative authority i.e. Congress and the judicial authority. The system requires the government to provide information to citizens at their request except information that is classified as secret.

The system is reasonable but it is not perfect; active groups can influence the workings of the state but inactive groups may lose a lot because the system does not protect people who have needs automatically. For this reason, there are groups to protect the environment, the rights of minorities, trade unions and so on. American Arabs and Muslims are examples of inactive groups that are losing a lot because of their lack of involvement in political work as groups and because they depend on the constitution to protect their rights.

The constitution is indeed the highest level in the system, and there are countries such as Britain without constitutions. In America it is almost sacred and cannot be contradicted however strong the president or the judges are, and amendments to it are historically rare. It protects the fundamental rights of all and is considered the main sources of support for minorities despite the many provocative campaigns against them. Most of the discrimination cases filed by American Muslims after the September 11 attacks were won based on the principles of the constitution.

This does not eliminate the need for political action in accordance with the political system that is available to all, is known for its flexibility, gives the minorities a loud voice no matter how small the group is, and all of this distinguishes countries like the United States where most of its inhabitants are descendants of immigrants from different nations, unlike European countries that are dominated by specific ethnicities and religions and where the interests of the majority dominate the minority.

Finally, although freedoms are protected and political participation is available to all, the political system is dominated by two parties – the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The intellectual differences between the two are limited unlike the situation in Europe. The recent elections were strange and different because Trump doesn’t actually belong to the Republican Party and he doesn’t believe in all its principles. Likewise, Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s main rival for the Democratic Party’s candidacy, was more leftist than any other candidate in the party’s history. We do not know whether this is a sign of transition and change within the American political society or whether they are two rare cases.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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