I was talking to a friend some time ago about American politics, political parties, etc. During this conversation, I thought of something:

  • If a single party controlled both the House and Senate, they could always pass a joint resolution
  • If the president also belonged to said party, the bills would never get vetoed
  • The president couldn't be impeached, since the House and Senate are under control of the party
  • Because of this, the party could make the Supreme Court judges "disappear" and appoint new ones. Despite suspicions, he/she couldn't be impeached
  • The party can then pass any laws they like, pardon anyone they want (meaning they can do anything illegal and get away with it), and even pass constitutional amendments to extend their reign without the Supreme Court stopping them.

I'm absolutely certain I've overlooked something that would make this impossible, and people have said so, yet never been able to find a reason. Is this possible, and if not, what stops it from happening?

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    Making a constitutional amendment also also requires the agreement of three quarters of the states. Unless enough states' legislatures (or possibly state ratifying conventions) are also of the same party (or in agreement with it), changing the constitution could be tough. Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 23:09
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    This question has attracted two downvotes and a vote to close, apparently without any explanatory comment. Yet the question goes to the heart of the US constitution and would be a perfect opportunity to explain how and why -- and to what extent -- the constitution addresses this issue. The question deserves an answer and the Redwolf Programs deserves to know what people's reservations about the question are, to have an opportunity to address them.
    – phoog
    Commented Apr 7, 2019 at 23:55
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    Read up on the political history of the 1930s - FDR had a mostly compliant legislature and was only sometimes stymied by the supreme court, which he cowed into accepting absurd positions on the threat that he would just expand the number of judges until he had enough to just do what he wanted anyway. Fortunately he didn't go quite that far, but it was very close. And as always, the court can make a ruling, but can it enforce it? Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 13:12
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    During 2017 and 2018 one party controlled the house, the senate, and the White House. They still were not able to agree on legislation. This is typical and has happened often in US history. In short, members of the same party don’t always agree. Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 8:24
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    This is nothing to do with the American set-up really. It's basically asking 'if you control every decision making apparatus can you just do what you want' and the answer always is 'yes, if people will let you get away with it'
    – user19831
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 10:12

10 Answers 10


Institutions and constitutional arrangements are important as they provide a buffer against temporary excesses, but the ultimate check is civil society, really. Otherwise look at Hungary, Turkey, etc. No amount of paper institutions is going to prevent a slide into something like that. Unless enough people say no.

There have been a lot of papers on instability in democracies and (temporary) reverts to authoritarianism. In general, a long democratic history is good predictor of non-reversals. Here's one such paper:

I present a new empirical approach to the study of democratic consolidation. I distinguish between democracies that survive because they are consolidated and those democracies that are not consolidated but survive because of some favorable circumstances. As a result, I can identify the determinants of two related yet distinct processes: the likelihood that a democracy consolidates, and the timing of authoritarian reversals in democracies that are not consolidated. I find that the level of economic development, type of democratic executive, and type of authoritarian past determine whether a democracy consolidates, but have no effect on the timing of reversals in democracies that are not consolidated. That risk is only associated with economic recessions.

As an aside: I think the US Supreme Court can still be padded, no need to kill anyone.

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    +1 for sidestepping the technicals and getting to the heart of the matter. The Constitution was made to serve a civil society and doesn't work for any other kind. Tyrants don't typically care about the rules, so the law is only as good as the lengths to which people will go to defend it.
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 5:32
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    @BurnsBA: No, I did mean Hungary, although Poland is also a reasonable example. In the paper you mention their baseline is the first of democracy, which can be pretty misleading as to what happened in-between. Poland "eroded" because according to that data it was more democratic in 1991 than in 2017, whereas Hungary stayed the same relative to 1990. But the scores of Poland and Hungary in 2017 are virtually the same, so the difference is explained by the score in 1990/1991. I think few would claim that Hungary has not regressed under Orban relative to the time they were admitted in the EU. Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:04
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    Er, yeah, I reread the paper. "The resulting regimes allow for elections with an accurate vote count, although usually not a fair playing field. In the 2010s, Hungary and Bolivia have exemplified this path. Both countries made major advances during their first two decades as democracies, but power-hungry executives have since presided over the corrosion of liberal democracy. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Bolivian president Evo Morales have chipped away at opposition rights and checks and balances since taking office in 2010 and 2006, respectively."
    – BurnsBA
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 15:11
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    I answered a similar question thusly: "The only obstacle between a government by the people and a dictatorship are the people." Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 10:25
  • So does this mean the reason that authoritarian takeovers were better able to happen in Hungary and Turkey was a greater "authoritarian consciousness", so to speak, amongst their peoples? Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 6:47

Because of this, the party could make the supreme court judges "disappear" and appoint new ones. Despite suspicions, he/she couldn't be impeached

This is the specific step in your chain where your thinking goes into crazy town.

Let's be clear that "disappearing" judges is a euphemism for murdering them. Murder of federal officials for a political purpose is an extremely serious crime in the United States, which despite current partisan antics, still has functioning rule of law. Murders are crimes that are too serious not to be investigated, especially if they are serial murders of a specific class of victim which have a motive that is too obvious to ignore. The number of murders that would be required to significantly tip the balance of the judicial branch is at least 4, and likely very many more because the Supreme Court is not the only court that would need to be controlled in order to nullify the judicial branch's checks and balances on the other branches of government.

Attempting to stop a serial murder investigation into the deaths or disappearances of federal judges would be highly scandalous. Eventually the investigation would find some of the participants in the plot, because the sheer number of murders you'd have to get away with would be nearly impossible. At that point, the existence of the scheme being discovered by the public would completely change the earlier assumptions you made in your story, namely:

The president couldn't be impeached, since the house and senate are under control of the party

"I knew about this giant murder scheme to murder federal judges and was planning to let it happen, re-elect me so I can continue this great work" is not a very compelling re-election campaign message. If the President was somehow identified to be part of this scandal, then the obvious thing for any given House member is to impeach the President, and any given Senate member is to vote for removal, purely out of their own selfish interest so they don't get tarred with the thing when they face re-election.

Finally, it's worth noting that the situation you describe in the beginning has happened many times before in America; there have been many periods where one party controls the House, Senate, and the Presidency, yet nothing like this has ever taken place. That should be your first clue that you're missing something. The Democrats have had something like 26 years of full control during the 20th century (mostly during the depression and the 60's) and the Republicans had a few years also in the 2000's, yet there's been no complicated judicial murder schemes in any of those periods.

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    It might be worth noting the additional protections the US has in place. Notably, that presidents cannot pardon State-level crimes. If someone in The Party murders a federal judge in New York... yeah, they can be pardoned of any federal crimes by the president, but the president can't pardon the criminal murder charges from the state of New York (et al). There's also the 2nd amendment, which is partially to protect against roughly exactly this circumstance (a government ruling tightly without regard for its constituents).
    – Delioth
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 18:06
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    @Delioth It may not be a state crime depending on how it is done, but it does not matter. Accepting a pardon requires public admission that the person accepting the pardon committed crimes. The public admission that crimes were committed for an obvious political purpose would invalidate the entire scheme.
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 11:44

A couple things are worth considering in this scenario.

First of all, this scenario assumes that some party can manage to convince an overwhelming majority of the populace, and the states, to vote for it. That's quite a tall order already. Granted, extremely one-sided senatorial elections have happened. For example, in the 1936 elections, Democrats controlled 74 seats, and Republicans controlled 17. The House of Representative elections was similarly one-sided. That's more than the needed 2/3 majority to approve a constitutional amendment. That being said, those were very different times. The election was at the same time as the presidential elections, and essentially became an election about the New Deal. In the context of the Great Depression, it's not too surprising that the vote was this lopsided. Some pretty cataclysmic events would have to occur to get such one-sided elections again. For context, in the 2016 Senate elections, Democrats won 46 seats, and Republicans won 52. In the House elections, Republicans won 241 seats, and Democrats won 194. The point is, the votes are extremely close right now. We are no where near the 2/3 mark.

Second, 3/4 of the states need to approve Constitutional amendments (such as one needed to change the size of the Supreme Court). That's a lot of states. For either party, there's a dedicated core of states that will never "fall" to the opposing party. Here's a map of "Red" and "Blue" states:

Red and blue states

You'll notice that while Republicans control many rural states, it's still fairly evenly matched. As I mentioned previously, it would take some pretty cataclysmic events to cause a change drastic enough to give one side a 3/4 majority. A sufficiently serious natural disaster or terrorist attack might do it, but I'm fairly doubtful that even in that case you'd see large enough changes.

Third, you have to consider what population you're talking about. Because of a combination of factors, Americans have had a somewhat unique fixation on freedom, and a particularly potent loathing towards surrendering rights to the government for any reason. There are many who claim that even current government policies are tyrannical, and that's without any party attempting to become tyrants. While it's certainly true that private citizens aren't a great army, there's a lot of them. America has a very high amount of weapons per capita, and a large portion of the population own weapons. Granted, many would not have the initiative to rise up against a government. I suspect, however, that enough would to cause serious damage. After all, the war in Vietnam should be a lesson in how effective untrained civilians can be.

To sum things up, I think that it's essentially impossible for this to happen politically. If it indeed does occur, I expect that this regime would be an extremely unstable one. They would have to deal with incessant civilian insurgencies, and would have to find a way to govern a population which is armed and ideologically opposed to its rulers. On the other hand, "it couldn't happen here" were the last words of very many people throughout history. It's certainly an interesting topic to think about.

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    I strongly object to the "will never fall" line. Parties evolve over time, and their coalitions change with that. There were extremely lopsided results in 1980, 1984, and 1988, and the 1976 map looks nothing like the modern one. Democrats won most of the South (including Texas) and Republicans won the entire west of the country (including California). Sure, that was 40 years ago, but what do you expect the map to look like in another 40 years? That said, I think the third part of this answer is quite good.
    – Bobson
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 1:00
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    You say "untrained civilians," but the US has a lot of combat veterans and a significant percentage privately own weapons. If even a small percentage of them decide to become insurgents they'll train all the other insurgents. It may not be to the same extent that the regular army gets, but they have the advantage of only needing to be trained to defend their home turf. Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 1:49
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    When republican institutions are subverted, the majority of the population usually supports it or at least silently accepts it. A large number of privately owned guns would simply mean more guns to use against those who disagree. Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 2:06
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    2nd paragraph contains an error: "... the states need to approve Constitutional amendments (such as one needed to change the size of the Supreme Court.)" A Constitutional amendment is not required to change the size of the Supreme Court. It can be done through the normal lawmaking process (and has been done several times throughout U.S. history).
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 5:16
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    "For context, in the 2016 Senate elections, Democrats won 46 seats, and Republicans won 52." That's badly put. In any given Congressional election year, about 1/3 of the Senate seats are at stake. The other 2/3 are already filled by people who were elected 2 years earlier or 4 years earlier, and still have time left in their six-year terms before they will need to worry about running for re-election (or choosing not to run). So the Democrats did not "win" 46 seats all at once -- they just won enough to end up with a grand total of 46, many of which they already had before Election Day 2016.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 13:38

In addition to the good points raised by other answers, it's worth noting that political parties are not monolithic. When a party with a preponderance of power comes close to the line of abusing that power, sometimes members of the party appear to stop it, or at least slow it down. Not always, but sometimes. Examples in the last decade or so include Jim Webb, who asked the Senate to delay voting on Obamacare until Scott Brown was seated. It's reasonable to argue either way as to whether or not this actually stopped an abuse, as the Democrats then responded by using reconciliation, which was intended as a budget-balancing rule, to pass Obamacare without 60 Senate votes, but the point remains that Webb had a certain sense of propriety which, to him, was more important than the exercise of raw power.

The Republicans have not recently held a preponderance of power (Presidency + House control + 60 Senate votes) similar to what the Democrats had in 2009. However, there are abundant signs that if a similar situation were to occur, there are Republicans who would act in a similar way. Senator Mitt Romney, for example, has no problem writing scathing criticism of Trump, or, for that matter, supporting him, depending on how Romney sees a particular situation. Going further back, the Republicans turned against President Nixon when the evidence against him became damning.

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    You might want to clarify what you mean in the last paragraph. I assume you mean that even though Republicans had control of both chambers and the Presidency for the last two years, they didn't have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
    – Bobson
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 11:38
  • I was going to answer about this very thing. You'll actually find that it's rather hard for the party in power to do anything because the opposition party is usually ideologicially concentrated to the party hard core because they are safe seats while the party in power is ideologically weak because they have moderate members who won in a swing district and have to play closer to a middle ground in hopes of re-election. During Obamacare debates, GOP was united in it's opposition, while Democrats had a tough time winning their own member's votes.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:39
  • political parties are not monolithic +1. Meaning, they will do what they can to appease their party, but they will do whatever needs done to get reelected by their constitutes. And if they're any good at their job, they're playing the long game, where you don't rock your own boat.
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 0:04
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    Please stop continuing the myth that the Democrats had a super majority in the Senate for 2009. While that was briefly the case, much of that time the Senate was in (Summer) recess. it was no where near the full year. The fact is that Al Franken wasn't seated until July 7 and Ted Kennedy died August 25. So, for the vast majority of the year they had 59 seats (including independents who caucused with them).
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 13:36

Your "disappear" comment seems to miss a point. The size of the supreme court is a matter of statute. The size of each US state is a matter of statute.

It is perfectly legal under the US constitution to appoint another 100 supreme court justices of the president's and senate's choice, assuming they get the support of congress.

Similarly, it is perfectly legal under the US constitution to make Bob and Alice's house (and their daughter, Eve) in (for example) Texas its own US State, with 2 Senators and a Congressman. Or do this 1000 times, generating 2000 new Senators and 1000 new Congresscritters, all belonging to states with 3 or more people in them (I don't think you can legally sit in both the House and the Senate, so 3 is minimal; you could do it a town at a time instead, or a county, or whatever).

With that large a majority, rewriting the US constitution becomes trivial; even before that, with that large a majority on the supreme court, ridiculous rulings saying anything that faction wants to do is constitutional is trivial.

This can all be done with the consent of any one 1 US State (any US State -- that is the state where you do the 'spawn 3 person states' in) and a majority in the US Senate & Congress and the US Presidency on-board.

A piece of paper is never a shield against tyranny. At best it can make it more obvious when someone wants to become a tyrant.

What stops this from happening?

  1. The expectation that people will simply not obey.
  2. The people winning the current political game aren't eager grab the board and flip it over (which is what this is); the current political-economic setup means winners are winning. Build a new one, and they might not be winning in it.
  3. Revolutionary times tend to be really dangerous and bloody, even for the nominally powerful before or during the revolution.
  4. Actual faith in democratic institutions among the powerful.

Like most power struggles, when power seems to be passed from one group to another it gets the most dangerous. The traditional power center still has power and sees it going away, so it uses that power to lash out at the new power center. Or the new power center gains power and doesn't have the same incentives to keep things stable.

Danger signs could be a political party deligitimizing democratic norms ("We aren't a democracy", or "It isn't illegal so it is ok"), a political party with reasons to believe it is becoming obsolete, or a new demographic group gaining relative wealth compared to the rest of society (some interesting recent research has shown that minority gaining economic power often leads to oppression, even if the majority isn't losing economic power).

  • 1
    Downvoting for the Alice and Bob's house example. This would not be legal under the constitution because the Constitution prohibits the partitioning of a state of the union into two states unless the Current State and proposed New State agree to the partitioning. Congress cannot break Michigan into the states of Glove and Not Glove unless the Glove territory and Not Glove Territory agree to such a division. Also your examples of legitimizing Democratic Norms are problematic, but I do not have space to go into specific issues.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:33
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    @hszmv 2 paragraphs down I listed the requirement of consent of "1 US State (any US State)". Is that too confusing? I could move requirements before the description of the act.
    – Yakk
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:36
  • It's not one US state, though. It's the won you want to patrician that needs to consent to the break up. Californians would love to see Texas broken up, but nobody cares what California thinks in the discussion of breaking up Texas... it's up to Texas to agree.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:43
  • @hszmv So, the ability to abuse this does not depend on the specific state you are abusing. This is about abusing the system, not about the specific state you abuse it with; please see the OP's question. As it seems this is confusing, I will add the word "for example". Is there anything else you find confusing about this? I want to make it perfectly clear that the US constitution is not a shield against Tyranny.
    – Yakk
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:48
  • Your examples of Danger signs is also problematic. The two specific quoted phrases are lacking context as to why they are warning signs.
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 16:11

Is this possible, and if not, what stops it from happening?

I want to say a few words about "what stops it from happening" and point out a short academic paper from January that has a little bit of insight. The paper looks at countries that transitioned to democracy in recent history then compares where they are today, and what factors might contribute to that change. Not directly comparable to the United States, but hopefully still offers some insight.

The paper divides these changes into several categories, though the ones relevant to this discussion are breakdowns, erosions (similar to breakdown, but still have "reasonably free and fair elections" where "fair" simply means an accurate vote count), and stagnations.

(a detour to discuss action to "stop it from happening")

I wanted to highlight one line from the description of the "breakdown" category that says

The most common route to breakdown among third-wave democracies, however, has been an incremental path without a clear breaking point.

This reminds me of the Douglas quote:

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

  • To Young Lawyers Section of the Washington State Bar Association, The Douglas Letters : Selections from the Private Papers of Justice William O. Douglas (1987), edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and Philip E. Urofsky, p. 162.

I would look into the answers at What is the most effective way to participate democratically as a regular citizen in a stable parliamentary democracy? and How can the common citizen defend democracy principles? for further reflection.

(back to the paper, and discussing causes)

They do some analysis on the data and report on the results:

Our calculations showed that regimes that started off with a higher level of liberal democracy, that were geographically surrounded by democracies, and that experienced better rates of economic growth were less likely to break down ...

Interestingly, they find the connection "inconclusive" between democracy breakdown and being a wealthier country. They also give the disappointing note

Against expectations, prior democratic history and levels of state capacity show no association with breakdowns.

My takeaway from the paper is that in order for democracy to survive, there needs to be internal and external pressure to help "push" it along. (Note, I phrase this as "pressure" since this is all dependent on country, culture, and current moment in history, and really none of this should be taken in absolutes).

What I mean by external pressure is interaction with other/neighboring countries should be smooth. I think this is primarily based on economics, and what system of government would allow this. I already got sidetracked here and cut a few paragraphs not entirely relevant, but I just want to note that this is not just economics focused on goods, but other aspects such as citizens working across a border or overseas, immigration and emigration, trade agreements, monetary and fiscal policy, etc. and how a particular form of government might affect those things.

Internal pressure would be citizen involvement (I think @Fizz answer highlights this nicely), but also checks and balances. The paper I cite here makes a passing reference to Uribe in Colombia, where the Constitutional Court rejected a referendum that would have allowed him to run for a 3rd term. These kinds of checks and balances are important to avoid descent into autocracy, which I think is the main concern of the original question.


Mainwaring, Scott & Bizzarro, Fernando. "The Fates of Third-Wave Democracies." Journal of Democracy, vol. 30 no. 1, 2019, pp. 99-113. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/jod.2019.0008

or online at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/713726


In a democratic system like the United States, control of the government ultimately belongs to one group of people: the voting citizenry. Eliminating checks and balances would at best give you temporary control of government processes. A more likely case would be that the voters would revolt at the next election and the opposing party would sweep nearly every open seat. Instead of gaining absolute control for yourself, you gave it to your opponents who now have an electoral mandate to punish those who destroyed the system. This is likely a lot worse for you than if you never messed with the system at all.

The constitution also allows for the people to propose and pass amendments even when the entire federal government opposes them, so a united populace can go over your head and undo anything that you try to do.

The only way to gain complete control is to remove elections. As long as you're accountable to someone, that someone can always hold you accountable. And they will.


I think the answer to your question is essentially: "yes". If a political party or a bipartisan group decided to overthrow the basics of the Constitutional system, no one could realistically stop them short of an actual popular revolution.

I think the most obvious reason as to why nothing like this has really happened is that "democracies" rely on the supposed validity of the "democratic process" to justify the fact that they can engage in what would otherwise be seen as tyrannical and illegal.

I think if we had a draft, massive taxation, an NSA and CIA that spy on us and overthrow other nations' governments without any formal declaration of war, and there was no pretense to Democracy, anyone would immediately identify that regime as tyrannical. But because we have a vote every so often for some of the people involved, we have been conditioned to believe that their actions reflect "the will of the people" in some mystical sense. Actions that the government takes even now would, if done by any other organization, be seen as criminal. So why do we put up with it? Because we believe that the oligarchy run by the RNC and the DNC is somehow democratically chosen and in a broad sense "fairly".

If either party were to try to strong-arm everyone in this way, they would lose their legitimacy and the current relatively benign populace might stop accepting the actions of the government. There would be massive civil unrest.

However, a deeper reason why no party does this is because the two parties are just not that different. This means they have no reason to actually do something so extreme. The news makes it sound like they are polar opposites, but usually its just a matter of degree. The Republicans want to invade 3 countries, the Democrats want only to invade 2, and do a "police action" in another. The Democrats want to increase Social Security payments by 4%, the Republicans want to increase it by 3.25%.

These ludicrously tiny differences are paired with highly emotional rhetoric to give you the idea that you are choosing between night and day, but we are not given the option to pick someone who has genuinely different views: witness the DNC's sidelining of Bernie Sanders and manipulation of the primaries to ensure that we got another corporatist warhawk in Hillary Clinton.

They do little bits here and there to try and show the country how different they are from the other side, but when the cameras go off, they sit down and hash out a deal that gives them both red meat to throw to their base and enriches them and their friends at our expense.

The following is from: The Facist Threat

I wouldn't say that we truly have a dictatorship of one man in this country, but we do have a form of dictatorship of one sector of government over the entire country. The executive branch has spread so dramatically over the last century that it has become a joke to speak of checks and balances. What the kids learn in civics class has nothing to do with reality.

The executive state is the state as we know it, all flowing from the White House down. The role of the courts is to enforce the will of the executive. The role of the legislature is to ratify the policy of the executive.

Further, this executive is not really about the person who seems to be in charge. The president is only the veneer, and the elections are only the tribal rituals we undergo to confer some legitimacy on the institution. In reality, the nation-state lives and thrives outside any "democratic mandate." Here we find the power to regulate all aspects of life and the wicked power to create the money necessary to fund this executive rule.

As for the leadership principle, there is no greater lie in American public life than the propaganda we hear every four years about how the new president/messiah is going to usher in the great dispensation of peace, equality, liberty, and global human happiness. The idea here is that the whole of society is really shaped and controlled by a single will — a point that requires a leap of faith so vast that you have to disregard everything you know about reality to believe it.

And yet people do. The hope for a messiah reached a fevered pitch with Obama's election. The civic religion was in full-scale worship mode — of the greatest human who ever lived or ever shall live. It was a despicable display.

Another lie that the American people believe is that presidential elections bring about regime change. This is sheer nonsense. The Obama state is the Bush state; the Bush state was the Clinton state; the Clinton state was the Bush state; the Bush state was the Reagan state. We can trace this back and back in time and see overlapping appointments, bureaucrats, technicians, diplomats, Fed officials, financial elites, and so on. Rotation in office occurs not because of elections but because of mortality.



Why would anybody really want that? How do you make sure that the power that you gain isn't used against you (or your children)?

Let's start with a rather simple example:

If murdering the king is a legitimate way of becoming king yourself, you're facing a new problem once you are king. Being dictator for life may sound nice, but you have to keep in mind that life is finite and can always be "shortened" by someone.

Now, if there's only one dictator, it's likely there's someone willing to take the risk...

...but we're talking about a rather large group of people - let's say 1.000 should suffice. So we have 1.000 people in key positions ready and willing to do anything to overthrow the government to get "ultimate power" - and they do in fact succeed. They "rewrite" the rules so they can do virtually anything, they change the voting system so that they will always get the majorities they need, they change the law so they can simply murder people for not being "patriotic" - you name it.

So we have a group of 1.000 people with all the power they ever wanted - and this is where the trouble starts: Neither the group itself nor the personal "preferences" of its members are static. People die, new ones join, they change their mind and so on. All this can happen either for "natural reasons" or because of "external effects".

All of a sudden you may find that the group no longer wants you to be part of it, but fortunately it's unlawful to simply kill somebody like you.

Oh, wait...

  • I think the point of the question is that after those 1000 gain power, they will reduce the checks and balances so the real power lies with a select small group. Then maintain loyalty and kick the others out, straight from the dictator playbook, I think..
    – JJJ
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 8:44
  • The history of military juntas is informative here. Or even the high-level struggles in the Soviet union before WWII. Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 8:54
  • So 990 people would have to give away power to the remaining 10 and hope they will never turn against them, because if they do, there's nothing left to stop them... I would think twice before participating in such a thing. (I'm not saying this is the only reason for something like this not being likely, it's not even the primary reason, but do I think it is a point that's worth noting...)
    – Thomas
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 8:55

The Second Amendment will stop this from happening ... sort of

Many people believe that they are the defenders of the Constitution. There are many (and I speak from personal experience) who believe that they/we took an oath to defend the Constitution (from all enemies, both foreign and domestic as they/we will quote to you) and that this oath is not absolved if you leave the military (or police, in many cases). Personal ownership of an effective war-fighting firearm (or many) is an integral part of this continued obligation of service.

Violence is of course the ultimate way to resolve any conflict. In the United States, perhaps uniquely among Western nations, there is a very large contingent of ex-military personnel, a very high level of personal weapon ownership, and an extensive gun culture which is strongly tied up with the idea of resisting excessive government.

Whether resorting to violence will preserve the Constitution or destroy it completely is, of course, an open question.

  • Any constitution is always subject to change, interpretation - or even abolishment. So far, nothing that has been made by humans has lasted eternally - and most likely nothing ever will...
    – Thomas
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 8:03

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