- - Friday, December 21, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I recently attended a large international forum in the Middle East. Heads of state, foreign ministers and other top officials from government and academia were in attendance with me. I met fascinating and brilliant people and learned a great deal.

Most significantly, I learned the world’s next great buzzword.

One of my pet peeves is what is known as a buzzword or catchphrase. In the early 1990s, I endured countless bureaucrats describing “where the rubber hits the road.” Over the years, buzzwords have come and gone, usually with a shelf life of about two years. I still have no idea what a “paradigm shift” is, but nearly every insecure speaker at almost every conference I went to for years managed to utter the phrase as though it was one of the Ten Commandments.

The formula is so common it is alarming. So-called experts are brought in to speak or participate in a panel discussion. They are given an allotted amount of speaking time, but often have very little substance to share, so they default to bureaucratic babble. They fill out their time uttering impressive sounding and generally accepted phrases that nonetheless are completely meaningless and often times just plain wrong. “At the end of the day,” “outside the box,” and some variation of the importance of “diversity” are all great examples.

I have long wondered, who originates these phrases and how they spread like wildfire? Who exactly decides that “pushing the envelope” sounds intellectual? While I have been unable to track the exact origins, I have developed a knack for spotting the next trendy word or phrase before it becomes common and woefully overused.



Let it be noted that it was December 2018 in the Middle East I first heard the next great buzzword/catchphrase. I was in a panel discussion titled “Changing Societies: The Rise of Populist Movements and their Impact on National Values, Identities, and Policies.” Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City, sat on the panel.

My ears perked up when, while describing America in the time of the Trump administration, Dabashi launched into a monologue about the “crisis of structural democracy.” He (erroneously) described how Trump has taken over all three branches of the United States government. The professor said that Trump had dismantled the notion of separation of powers and then further determined that this is a “structural problem.” The Iran native then leaped to the conclusion that the time had come for “structural change” in the United States government.

There it was. I’ll touch on the absurdity of the Iranian professor’s comments in a moment … but it was the use of the word “structural” three times within two minutes that waved the red flag. Could this be the next buzzword used by pseudo-intellectuals to demonstrate their knowledge and implicitly suggest major government changes must be made to save us all?

Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi apparently doesn’t understand the separation of powers if he honestly believes Trump has dismantled them. America has three equal branches of government. The legislative branch is elected by the people and makes the laws. The judicial branch determines that those laws are in keeping with the intent of the U.S. Constitution and that people are following that intent. The executive branch oversees the day to day executive functions of government and has certain additional authority, such as serving as commander in chief over our armed forces.

The executive branch, in this case, President Trump, does not have the authority to determine nor change the decisions of The Supreme Court. In fact, Supreme Court justices are given lifetime appointments, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate, in order to take politics and popularity out of their decision-making process. The president does not have the authority to remove a justice.

Professor Dabashi somehow believes the Trump appointment of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has dissolved the separation of powers and given control of the judicial branch to the president. This suggestion is fatally flawed in a couple of ways. First, the Supreme Court has nine members. One need look no further than the existing Supreme Court to see how balanced the court is. One sitting justice was appointed by George H.W. Bush, two by Bill Clinton, two by George W. Bush, two by Barack Obama and two by Donald Trump. There couldn’t be a more equitable makeup if you tried.

Second, each year the federal courts of appeals collectively discharge an average of 60,467 cases. However, the Supreme Court only reviews an average of 64 cases per year, which is about 0.106 percent of all decisions by the federal courts of appeals. Kavanaugh’s appointment is one of nine votes on a tiny fraction of all federal cases. Hardly a coup by the sitting president.

I was even more perplexed by the professor’s assertion that Trump had achieved authority over the legislative branch. Not only does Congress not answer directly to the president, but the House of Representatives will also be under Democrat control (the opposition party) in January as the result of the November 2018 nationwide elections. Trump will have even less impact on Congress moving forward than he has to date.

But the real reason the professor made his outrageous assertion isn’t because there is really a worry about Donald Trump outsmarting the intent of the Founding Fathers. No. The real reason is to sow the seeds of fear in people to the point that they will believe they have no choice but to structurally change the government of the United States.

Within 12 hours of landing back on United States soil, I heard a Democrat congressman on one of the 24-hour news networks utter the same phrase, “structural problem” and realized that my antenna had gone up for a reason. That phrase indeed is the new buzzword/catchphrase for those that would like to radically overhaul the American system. If you have a structural problem, what is the only way to correct it? Change the structure.

Why would one change the structure of a system that has produced the largest economy on the planet? Why would we scrap a system that has developed the highest standard of living the world has ever known? Why would we dump a system that allows for not only the privileged but for a hardworking offspring of a single parent to become its leader through free and fair elections?

One of the keys to the United States’ success has been stability and consistency. While there have been changes and amendments, the U.S. has the longest-living Constitution on earth, governing us since 1787. Contrast that with Iran, the professor’s native land, where at least six various forms of government have ruled during that same time frame.

Any given U.S. president will have supporters and detractors. That is why we have elections every four years and term limits. When the country feels a change is necessary, it happens. That change happens, however, within the confines of the structural integrity provided by the U.S. Constitution.

Professor Hamid Damashi may not like President Trump. He is not alone in that feeling. Beware, however, of his suggestions that the antidote is to gut the very system that has served us so well for 240 years. Beware, in fact, of any and all who utter the new buzzword/catchphrase “structural crisis.”

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