The question this week for many columnists was to write about the Democratic debate held Feb. 19 in Nevada or something more serious. Given the performance of the contenders, the clear winner was President Donald Trump. However, a so far invisible tectonic shift in American politics is taking place.
Whether Americans like or loathe Donald Trump, he has turned politics turned upside down, possibly irreversibly. The United States was created as a constitutional system of divided government and checks and balances. That is changing.
Today, America's government is a bastardized parliamentary system in which the president is a de facto prime minister dependent not on a strong parliamentary majority but on a few seats in the Senate. Further, the House of Representatives has become a House of (Very) Commons with less power than Britain's House of Lords. It can complain, investigate and even impeach but with little effect.
The Senate is a House of Lordlings dependent on the grace and favor of the president in which even a single seat majority is sufficient to govern. Any bill the president opposes will not become law as there is no 2/3 vote to override a veto. And members of the House of Lordlings are intimidated by or fearful of a presidential tweet that could "primary" or unseat the offending senator in the next election.
Admirers of Winston Churchill will be appalled by comparison, however remote, with Trump. Yet during World War II, Churchill was ubiquitous in formulating grand strategy to issuing memos on relatively trivial issues with the notation "action this day." So, too, Trump is everywhere and on everything from criticizing judges to issuing pardons.
Churchill weaponized words and sent them off to war. Even though Trump's English is as remote from Winston's as Pluto is from Earth, to his base president speak is a siren's song.
What does all this mean? If Trump wins in 2020 that, at this moment seems very plausible, this aberration could become permanent. Then what happens in 2024?
Some anti-Trumpists fear that the president will not relinquish office after two terms. He could, of course, declare the 22nd Amendment that prohibits serving more that two terms invalid. At first, that sounds ludicrous. After all, how could the Constitution have any of its articles or amendments declared unconstitutional?
That will not deter Trump. In a precedent, as the Supreme Court declared a law unconstitutional in Marbury vs. Madison in 1803 without explicit authority in Article III, why could this ruling not be applied to the Constitution itself? The requirement for any president to be "native born," meaning born in the United States and its territories has been invalidated. One could see a lawsuit on the 22nd Amendment referred to the Supreme Court. And the Court could rule 5-4 (or 6-3 or 7-2 if more Trump appointees are confirmed) in the president's favor.
Rather than force a constitutional crisis, a more likely outcome is this. Sadly for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's lust for the presidency, the obvious replacement for Trump in 2024 is his daughter Ivanka Trump. She hits two of three hot button issues. She is obviously a very attractive and articulate woman. And she is Jewish. Unlike Elizabeth Warren, she may not have minority blood in her background. But too bad. Who then would be her vice president?
The answer is Donald Trump. No legal or constitutional impediment would prevent a two-term president serving in the No. 2 role. Of course, if Ivanka Trump died or had to be replaced, the Speaker of the House would be next in succession. Donald Trump could live with that.
More serious, however, is the contortion of America's government into a parliamentary system with both houses caricatures of the Commons and Lords. Can such a transformation be sustained based on the personality of a single individual who as president is de facto prime minister?
Further, the Democratic Party is emulating the Labor Party, except it is a movement with multiple Jeremy Corbyns. Torn between the progressive and pragmatic wings, and with more vocal extremists exercising greater influence, the Democrats are playing into Donald Trump's hands.
This danger far exceeds whatever one thinks about Donald Trump. The existential threat is whether the Constitution can survive being manipulated into a surrogate parliamentary system. While the great Scots economist Adam Smith was correct in that "there is a lot of ruin in a nation," one wonders if any nation can survive this degree of potential political ruin.
Harlan Ullman is a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.