Our democracy is in danger.
The Senate is no longer an effective check on the president. They voted to acquit Donald Trump, but that is not even the key issue. The key issue is that before they voted to acquit, they voted 51-49, largely along party lines, to not allow new evidence or witnesses during his trial. A trial without evidence or witnesses is a sham. The Senate, in essence, said that Trump can do anything he wants because it refuses to even look at any evidence against him.
Trump’s guilt or innocence is beside the point. Rational people should agree that all evidence must be brought forward before a vote to convict or acquit is taken; this is reflected by the belief of 66 percent of Americans at that time that the Senate should have called witnesses (ABC News, “66% Call for Witnesses in Trump Impeachment Trial: Poll,” 01.24.2020). Republicans made Trump invincible by denying the people the facts of his abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine, as well as obstructing Congress. What would it take for Trump to be put on trial like everybody else, let alone face the same consequences for breaking the law? With Moscow Mitch’s Senate in power, apparently nothing is off limits.
This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent. We have now made it acceptable for the president to get away with anything as long as they have the support of 50 senators. So now Republicans must live with the reality that if Democrats secure control of the Senate and the presidency, that president can do whatever they want with no consequences. Republicans may be smiling now, but what if a future Democrat decides to, I don’t know, take away their guns? It won’t matter what the law or the Constitution says, as long as the Senate is in Democratic hands.
“But what about the courts?” I hear you asking. Given what transpired in the Department of Justice (DOJ) this past week, it appears the courts are no longer a check on the president or his administration either.
Briefly, Trump’s buddy Roger Stone, a political consultant who made a name for himself under Richard Nixon, was convicted of lying to Congress, threatening a witness and other crimes during a fair trial. He was then recommended a prison sentence of seven to nine years by federal prosecutors, a sentence that was described by Department of Justice official William Yeomans, who served under five different presidents, as “within the federal sentencing guidelines, which means that it was presumptively reasonable” (USA Today, “Four Career Prosecutors are the Target of Trump’s Anger,” 02.17.2020). We all know the rest of the story: Trump wasn’t happy that his pal was going to have to face justice, so he tweeted that it was “a horrible and very unfair situation,” after which the DOJ intervened and called for a much lighter sentence (Twitter, @[realDonaldTrump], 02.11.2020). Then Trump took to Twitter to congratulate Attorney General William Barr, a Trump loyalist. This led to the outrage of many former DOJ employees. Four prosecutors immediately quit the case, one of whom quit the entire DOJ (NPR “1,100 Former DOJ Employees Call on Barr to Resign After Intervening in Stone Case,” 02.16.2020).
Clearly, we are at a point where Trump is overruling the justice system. Although the president has the power to pardon, it is very different for him to pick and choose individual winners and losers and exercise control over the entire justice system. This action to strong-arm the DOJ by Trump was so unusual that even former federal prosecutors had never seen anything like it (Twitter, @[Popehat], 02.11.2020). Stone was convicted for illegally aiding Trump, and so Trump stepped in and made sure his sentence was reduced.
What is stopping more of Trump’s stooges from blatantly breaking the law to do him favors if Trump will simply override any punishment that may be handed down? Now, not only is Trump immune to laws, but so too are his people. This is how democracies fall, when different rules apply to those in power than to everyone else. In a healthy democracy, nobody is above the law.
Trump lies every day and breaks so many rules that it is not possible to keep track of them anymore. So we all get used to it and we all become complacent. Everyone seems to believe that we can just wait him out and then everything will go back to normal.
Well, I am tired of waiting for Republicans to “put country over party” as many people like to say. How many times have we heard that one? And yet they never come through, with the notable exception of Senator Mitt Romney, who was the only Republican to vote against Trump in the impeachment trial. What did he get for that? For starters, Donald Trump Jr. said that Romney should be expelled from the party. Not to mention that Romney was disinvited from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) because it couldn’t guarantee his physical safety. Loyalty to Trump runs deep with elected Republicans, deeper than their loyalty to the Constitution or to each other.
We can’t even be sure the 2020 election will go smoothly. There is substantial evidence to suggest that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, and the current administration refuses to look into the matter or to take any measures to prevent interference in the upcoming election (Robert Mueller III, “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election,” 04.18.2019). On top of not taking steps to safeguard the integrity of our elections, Trump himself has been pedaling the idea that the elections are fully rigged against him. He said as much in 2016. Let’s say he does lose fair and square this year; do we really think he will go quietly? Is it unreasonable to think that a Trump loss will result in him saying the election was tampered with and therefore he cannot leave office? Almost all Americans think our freedom is untouchable and too strong to collapse. Maybe it is because we have multiple branches of government or maybe it is because we have a constitution which guarantees us such. But the Constitution is nothing but a piece of paper if there is no one willing to defend its principles. Throughout the world, fake democracies are used to cover authoritarian regimes. China has a “congress,” and so does Russia. Vladimir Putin and other tyrants are “elected” every time their term is up, but those still aren’t true democracies (The Economist Intelligence Unit, “Democracy Index 2019,” 01.22.2020). Unfree countries hold “trials”; there just aren’t any witnesses or evidence and the outcome is predetermined. On the surface, these governments look like democracy, but they are not.
The system of checks and balances is not functioning. Trump and his allies are facing no consequences for breaking laws. Republicans will not turn on Trump no matter how destructive he becomes.
Although the press is still free, Trump and his allies continuously denounce it as fake news, mistrust is spreading like wildfire and sources like Fox News perpetuate absolute lies and misinformation. Even our government is unwilling to deal in facts. Every four years you hear that “this is the most important election ever!” so I will spare you that bullshit. But 2020 will undoubtedly be a turning point for America, possibly a point of no return. The stage is set for American democracy to end.
History hasn’t seen many long-surviving democracies. Maybe the elections will go smoothly, maybe Trump will become nothing more than a distant memory and maybe our institutions will move toward being fully functional again. But if that doesn’t happen, don’t say we didn’t see it coming.