The Sorrows of Congress, and Why Trump is Such a Threat to the Republic
Part of the reason our vaunted 'checks and balances' are leaving many frightened, or at least frustrated, is that Congress has been broken by two different types of corruption - Gerrymandering of legislative districts to restrict competition AND no limitations on campaign finance, which enables moneyed interests to buy influence. This video by Lawrence Lessig is an effective delineation of the forces distorting our representative democracy.
The degree to which these two forces have, over time, undermined the behavior of elected members of Congress can be seen in the blatant hypocrisy of leadership, who are able to behave without impunity in most cases. The result is one in which Congress is pursuing a deeply unpopular policy agenda, while lying about it, and is so committed to it that they will refrain from restraining an undemocratic executive branch as the Constitution would have envisioned. It's truly the worst scenario we could have for democracy.
An aspect of the pernicious effects of these forces that does not get as much attention as it deserves, in my opinion, is the denigration of Congress in terms of the abilities and qualifications of its elected members. The focus on money and power accumulation has brought with it a demographic of office seeker that is divorced from traditional drivers of principle and policy agenda. The fact that the GOP has largely moved away from 'conservative' principles is one clear piece of evidence. The degree to which GOP members who were conservative but now are simply GOP functionaries highlights the erosive power at play here, much as a river gouges out a canyon over time.
Now, one must be evenhanded in talking about this dynamic. While the GOP is the party in power at the moment, and demonstrate the most egregiously bad behavior, the Democratic Party also has played right into these dynamics. While Democrats largely avoid the lying and do not work for such clearly unpopular legislative actions, they too 'play the game' for money and to maximize power. The GOP is benefiting from the structural problems of proportionate representation, thanks to the Senate, but that has long been true.