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The fifth branch of government

Articles I, II, and III of the United States Constitution establish the three formal branches of American government, and the vast federal bureaucracy consisting of numerous departments, commissions and agencies is commonly, yet somewhat cynically, referred to as the fourth branch. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), a fifth branch exists in the form of the press. This unofficial wing of American democracy, which its detractors refer to as ‘fake news,’ wields much more power today than ever in history. Regardless of one’s political views, he or she can admit that the press plays a critical role in checking and balancing the power of the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

In a recent article, James Fallows, a former presidential speechwriter, blames a timid and silent Republican Congress for unwarily following party lines and consequently failing to check an increasingly perplexing executive administration. Luckily, where Congress falls short, the media stands in the gap. Whether one follows Fox News regularly or subscribes to MSNBC, he or she can appreciate the significance of this reality. As the White House toes the line of executive overreach, and conservative legislators weigh the costs of alienating the far-right support base, the ‘fake news’ (or the respectable free press) provides the only semblance of institutional resistance.

The takeaway should not be that the divisive nature of the current political climate is beneficial. In actuality, it threatens the principles of American life; however, the mere existence of distinctly leftist media in the face of a Republican government is uniquely notable. Very few nations exist outside of America where the media can openly criticize established administrations.

Furthermore, conservative control of Congress and the White House may lull many to believe that conservatism marks America. There may be a three-branch Republican government, but Republicanism does not permeate the entire country. The American press serves as the voice of citizens who do not support the current administration.

Knowing that their arguments and differences would empower him to make decisions for the good of the whole country, George Washington appointed bitter political rivals, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, to his first cabinet. He recognized the inherent disagreements of a fledgling nation and embraced them. In the same manner, it is unfortunate that most major news outlets present such biased views of American politics, but until this nation realizes a unified ideal, we should appreciate the voices that scratch, claw, and bite for the sake of civic equilibrium.

Daniel Brickhill lives in Buckingham County. His email address is danielbrickhill@gmail.com.