In order to understand how the American government works, one must address the questions, who governs and for what purpose. However, the obvious answer may not be the correct one. Many may think that those who govern are the people or perhaps politicians. In actuality, there is no definite individual or particular group who governs. Instead governing is a process, which involves several groups (voters, candidates, parties, executive officials etc) who carry out the policies of the people by bargaining, supporting, and compromising. The purpose of those who govern is to bind society in law. The Constitution provides legitimacy for the government’s purpose, ensuring the rights of the people, as well as, protecting those who are governed from being dominated by those in power. One of the most important components of the American government is democracy. Democracy is relevant to who governs because it shows that one individual does not govern and although “the people” may elect someone, the process of getting there and the process of staying there involves other institutions that prevent too much power.
Democracy involves political participation, voting, and citizen participation. Thus, one can say that every institution or individual governs in various ways and for different purposes. The American government follows Participatory democracy or representative democracy. The president is elected to serve the interests of the people. He represents the will of the majority, just as the title suggests. He is authorized to make decisions, but he alone does not have full control. In an essay concerning civil government, John Locke describes how a government functions. According to him, the only way a government can exist is when the people individually consent to the power of the government under majority rule. In order for a government to exist the people must submit to the government (if not there would be no government). The Constitution provides a similar explanation but not entirely. The Constitution creates a system of separate institutions (or branches) that share powers. The president makes up the executive branch. Those eligible for voting contribute to choosing the president.
The Electoral College votes also and chooses the president. The president has certain powers like being commander in chief, making treaties, etc. However, Congress and the Courts (or the legislative and judicial branches) can check his powers. Congress can refuse to pas a bill the president wants, use impeachment powers, refusing to ratify treaties, or passing laws over the president’s veto. The Courts can also check the president by declaring to be unconstitutional. Similarly the Courts can check Congress and vice versa. Each branch uses its power to help pass policies. The question of who governs is not only limited to those who fall into the category of the three branches. Several institutions of influence and monetary dominance take part in the government. Many corporations govern in their own way by funding campaigns. They use their involvement to help carry out policies that perhaps can or will benefit them.
Thus, the question of who governs is vague. The Constitution focus on the 3 branches, but governing is not limited to the national government. When addressing the question to what ends or for what purpose one governs, one can say that the purpose of the government is to make decisions and laws, provide for the welfare of the people and ensure their rights. The Bill of Rights is an example of one of the purposes of the government. It states individual rights and liberties. The Constitution gives certain rights to the branches and those rights should be used for the people. Others may argue that those who govern have a special interest. It is human nature to have such instincts.
However, this brings us back to the purpose of checks and balances and separation of powers. Governments govern for the majority because they represent these people (this doesn’t mean that they always serve in the best interest of the body politic). Addressing the questions is a difficult task. The answer to the question varies based on ones perspective. However the Constitution enables us to understand what institutions govern and what powers aren’t entitled to those who govern and those who are governed.
. American Government: Policies and Institutions Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1998 Excerpts from Dahl’s Who Governs? John Locke’s Essay Concerning Civil Government