Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


An idea to end gridlock: dissolve Congress

A French historian offers a bold suggestion for U.S. constitutional reform.

The current expectation for 2015 is that the Republicans will hold onto a substantial House majority and the Senate will settle somewhere near 50-50.

Writing for the current Harper’s, French historian Jean-Philippe Immarigeon offers a bold suggestion for U.S. constitutional reform that’s captured in a deliberately provocative essay title: “Dissolve Congress.”

Unlike some frustrated Americans, he doesn’t imagine the members of the U.S. Congress being dropped en masse into a boiling cauldron of acid. By “dissolve,” he means that the United States should do what most democracies around the world do when their governments are deadlocked: adjourn the current session and call an election based on the issues that are causing the gridlock. Of course, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow for such a thing, but Immarigeon thinks it would be good if it did.

“There is nothing more tiresome to an American than to be lectured by a Frenchman,” Immarigeon acknowledges with good humor (and considerable accuracy). But he notes that this feature is common to most democracies around the world. It doesn’t always produce the desired result, which presumably is a period of constructive action (or perhaps constructive inaction, if that is what the electorate has endorsed) in the government.

It’s widely assumed that nothing very substantial will happen in 2014, while we wait for an election that in all likelihood won’t settle anything anyway.

Article continues after advertisement

The current expectation for 2015 (pending the next this-changes-everything moment, like the government shutdown, or like the Obamacare rollout snafu, which like those previous this-changes-everything moments won’t change everything) is that the Republicans will hold onto a substantial House majority, the Senate will settle somewhere near 50-50, and Obama — this is not speculation — will remain in the Oval Office through mid-January of 2017. In other words, the situation will remain high in gridlock potential.

Immarigeon didn’t even go into that. He doesn’t address the fact our system creates multiple power centers, all chosen on different schedules and different bases. He merely thinks it would be a good idea to let the electorate choose a new Congress with fresh democratically-produced instructions on how to proceed.

(By the way, I can’t link to his piece because Harper’s is subscriber-only for much of its content. Here’s the excerpt that’s available to all.)