In a democratic government, functions of representation can sometimes become skewed or misunderstood. I will examine the different institutions of government including the legislature, the executive, the bureaucracy, and the courts pointing to their differences in trustee vs. delegate functions of representation.
My understanding of a trustee is that it is someone in a position of power deciding what is best without a direct mandate. In other words, someone who is carrying out the wishes of the constituents when feasible, as well as acting motivated by what he or she feels or thinks is in the best interest of the community as a whole. A delegate function, on the other hand, is one that mandates representation of the constituency. A delegate serves to enact the wishes of those people he/she represents in participation in the development of laws, policies and in leadership.
English philosopher John Locke viewed the power of the legislature as the most basic and important branch of government. The theory behind the legislature is that it will enact laws that will allocate values for society. The legislature works to makes laws, educate, represent, supervise, and make criticisms of the government. Most of the work of the United States Legislature is done in committee, where the real power of the legislature is held. Most legislation originates in governmental departments and agencies. In committees, a majority vote decides and often, compromise must be reached in order for a bill or law to survive committee action. This frequently requires that a delegate alter his position in order to achieve a compromise. This compromise may or may not reflect the wishes of the people he/she represents.
Modern Bureaucracy in the United States serves to administer, gather information, conduct investigations, regulate, and license. Once set up, a bureaucracy is inherently conservative. The reason the bureaucracy was initiated may not continue to exist as a need in the future. The need or reason may change with a change in the times and the culture needs. A bureaucracy tends to make decisions that protect it and further it’s own existence, possibly apart from the wishes of the populace. It may not consistently reflect what might be optimal in terms of the needs and wants of the people. Local governments employ most of the United States civil servants. The 14 cabinet departments in the U.S. are run day-to-day by career civil servants, which have a great deal of discretionary authority. The U.S. government corporations use appropriated funds from congress and use fees generated through their operations. When it comes to fully managing control over their bureaucracy, no government has been able to do so. Bureaucratic organizations and government corporations have sometimes been accused of being unaccountable, irresponsible, and unresponsive to the needs and wishes of the people. Corruption and inefficiency may be increased when the bureaucracy is decentralized and more politicized. Growth in an American bureaucracy may be attributed to the way it was set up, funded and given its duties by our elected officials. As political, representative leadership and cultural needs change, it might be difficult for a bureaucracy to mirror the new needs and wishes of the people and fulfill the mission or purpose it was meant to serve.
Interpretations of the constitution change as times change. Compared to republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, democratic justices tend to seek protection of individual rights. In the U.S., Supreme Court justices are influenced by their party affiliation, their conception of the judicial role, changing public opinion and attitudes. The President of the United States appoints the justices that sit in on the Supreme Court. They are bound to abiding by the U. S. Constitution when making their decisions, but their interpretations of the law of the land can be guided by their particular political beliefs, or what they think is best. They function in the position of a trustee and not necessarily a delegate. The U.S. approach to autonomous and coequal judicial power is growing worldwide.
Political Culture focuses on basic, general values. The American political culture includes an emphasis on minimal government. There is a vast difference between levels of participation when it comes to politics between the elite and the masses. Voter turnout in America is among the lowest in the world. This effects the level of representation possible. When the percentage of the voting population is small enough, the elite, the corporate and those with a high degree of participation will likely be the voice that is heard.
Public opinion typically implies strong, clear united convictions about most citizens concerning their reactions to specific policies and problems. Public opinion changes quickly under the impact of events. Interest groups and mass media can manipulate public opinion.
Interest groups attempt to influence all branches of government. They lie just outside of the electoral process. Dominated by individuals with business or economic related interests, these groups are generally dominated by the elite. The poor are less represented. The bureaucracy has become one of the biggest and most powerful interest groups of all. The single most important factor in an interest group’s success is the amount of money it has. Interest group activity in a democracy does not always balance the will of the people with the will of the selected few.
The party with the most seats in the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate, or the party that dominates the executive branch can use it’s majority to put a stamp on the direction policy will take. The United States system of separation of powers makes accountability in the making of public policy very difficult. Proportional representation tends to lead to multiparty systems.
Several studies have been done that say the mass media has the ability to effectively reinforce existing political opinions. The elite mostly comprises the media. The president gets the most television news coverage, leaving out all other branches of government decision making and policy. The state governments are the most left out, receiving almost no media coverage at all.
In a democratic government forms of represtantion are constantly changing from trustee to delegate and from delegate back to trustee. This is the procedure of checks and balances are what maintains and establishes a democracy.