The Crossroads of America’s Democratic Experiment
Barely four months into Donald Trump’s administration, America has watched the pillars of its democracy systematically decimated. Have we reached the tipping point where our political and legal systems can no longer protect the country?
I have thought long and hard about writing a story like this, and in fact, I was originally going to wait until the final vote on the AHCA before writing it. But now that Donald Trump has fired the man who was investigating his alleged ties to Russia and their influence on our government, I feel that the time has come.
On Election Day of 2016, many of us watched helplessly as return after return slowly closed the curtain on any hope that the worst possible candidate in US history would not become the next Commander-in-Chief. But this has now become America’s reality. And even well before Trump took the oath of office, his victory sent shockwaves through the entirety of American life. To list only a small sampling: The CIA determined that Russia may have played a vital role in helping Trump ascend to the presidency. Mosques received threatening messages in the name of Donald Trump. Before the Army Corps of Engineers had decided not to grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline across tribal lands, police violently attacked the peaceful protesters using water cannons in scenes eerily similar to those from 1960s civil rights marches. We have also seen the rise of “fake news,” intentionally misleading news stories meant to spread misinformation and spur their believers to action. As we now know with “pizzagate,” this nearly got people killed.
In fact, we have effectively moved into a post truth era, which literally means that facts and the truth are losing their relevance. Ever since Kellyanne Conway ushered in the era of “alternative facts,” the truth has been under constant assault, as well as the news media itself. Trump has assailed our freedom of the press like no administration in history, even blocking access to the American press from certain types of briefings. It’s almost impossible to overstate the significance of this to the American people and the foundations of democracy. One of the very reasons we have freedom of the press enshrined within the First Amendment is so that we have a counter to an overreaching, out of control government. Donald Trump is determined to destroy this counterbalance with a sledgehammer as both he and Sean Spicer launch direct assaults on the media overall, at specific news organizations such as the “failing” New York Times, and even individual reporters.
The last four months have also seen an all-out assault on climate change, including his appointment to the EPA a man who has filed numerous lawsuits against the agency and who is himself a climate change denier. Trump has also signed executive orders annihilating a number of the environmental protections put into place by the Obama Administration. Industry polluters are set to have free reign to do anything they want to the environment under Donald Trump, to the detriment of our waterways and the atmosphere, and ultimately, to the rest of the planet.
We are now also on the cusp of undoing all of the benefits that “Obamacare” has brought to health insurance, including the loss of coverage for “essential” health items such as maternity care. I have a summary posted already, but suffice it to say that women and poorer Americans will likely have little way to afford any meaningful health care should the AHCA pass in its current form. And while the Senate has pledged a substantially different version, it remains to be seen if the most hard-core Republicans will allow anything which doesn’t utterly destroy health care for the vast majority of the population.
Trump’s Firing of FBI Director Comey the Tipping Point
But the one thing we had not seen in all of this was a total rebuke of the limits put into place by the Constitution of the United States on executive power. Trump’s firing of James Comey changes that completely. By firing the head of the FBI during a potentially criminal investigation into collusion between he and his administration to undermine the election — and thus the core of the entire American democracy — Donald Trump has sent a very clear message to the American people that he is in charge, and nothing and no one will ever do anything to undermine him without significant repercussions. In other words: Donald Trump has threatened the entire American population that we will pay dearly if we do anything to try and stop his presidency.
What makes this even more profound is the fact that Trump as much as admitted in no uncertain terms that Comey was fired, not because of recommendations by Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein, but for the Russian investigation:
He [Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it!
And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
And the reason they should’ve won it is, the Electoral College is almost impossible for a Republican to win, it’s very hard, because you start off at such a disadvantage. So everybody was thinking they should have won the election. This was an excuse for having lost an election.
Trump’s words tell us two things: 1) That he believes literally anything he is accused of is automatically a lie; and 2) That he will stop at nothing to shut down any such allegations, including eliminating those investigating him. And we have also learned that Trump allegedly demanded “loyalty” from Comey — which was denied as Comey allegedly pledged “honesty.”
Comey’s firing goes far beyond replacing people on Trump’s team with whom he has disagreements on policy and procedure; that would be one thing. But because the original narrative — that Comey was fired for mishandling the Hillary Clinton E-mail investigation — was supplanted by the President of the United States with the words, “I fired Comey because he was investigating me personally for something I don’t want investigated,” Trump is saying that he is beyond rebuke, above the law, and that he will use the full power of his office to protect himself.
At the very least, Trump’s actions aspire to obstruction of justice; at most, this could be an act of treason. Why treason? Because Russia’s attacks on our cyber-security and actions to try and rig the election in favor of Trump essentially make the Russian state an enemy of the United States (this is arguably an act of war). Trump’s attempts to shut down the investigation concerning he and his administration’s ties to that attack are the definition of providing “Aid and Comfort” to an enemy of the United States under Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.
Even with this, however, America faces one overwhelming problem: The Constitution is only as powerful as those within our government who are willing to defend it. As of now, Congress has shown no willingness to defend it and instead is happy to let Donald Trump take whatever actions he wishes while they use their own power to send him bills which strip away our own individual rights and protections. And even a Harvard law professor pronounced on ABC’s This Week that Trump believes he is above the law:
President Trump thinks he is above the law, Harvard professor Laurence Tribe said Sunday.
“He has shown no respect for the rule of law, regards himself as above the law,” Tribe said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“He thinks it’s appropriate to essentially have a job interview with the FBI director as we now know.”
With these revelations, it is clear that Donald Trump should face impeachment. The question is whether or not this can happen. We now have complete Republican control of the government in every single branch. Taking into account the hard-line positions so many Republicans have taken on issues such as health care, it is, in my estimation, impossible for an impeachment to be conducted, because there is likely nothing Trump can do which will convince them to end their support of his presidency. Should this prediction pan out, that means Democrats will have to retake control of Congress before we can see any movement on that front. The damage that Trump and his team will inflict upon America in that length of time may be immeasurable.
Some Democrats have opened up calls for Trump’s impeachment, suggesting that the Comey firing may make this an option. But the impeachment process is not straightforward, and the House of Representatives — controlled by Republicans — gets to set the rules for the impeachment of a president:
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have the right to make their own rules governing their procedure, and to change those rules. Under current rules, the actual impeachment inquiry begins in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. That Committee holds hearings, takes evidence, and hears testimony of witnesses concerning matters relevant to the inquiry. Typically, as occurred in the case of President Nixon, there will also be a Minority Counsel who serves the interest of the party not controlling Congress.
Witnesses are interrogated by the Committee Counsel, the Minority Counsel, and each of the members of the House Judiciary Committee. The Committee formulates Articles of Impeachment which could contain multiple counts. The Committee votes on the Articles of Impeachment and the results of the vote are reported to the House as a whole. The matter is then referred to the whole House which debates the matter and votes on the Articles of Impeachment, which may or may not be changed. If the Articles of Impeachment are approved, the matter is sent to the Senate for trial.
What we’re again saying is that we need people within Congress who are willing to put the integrity and survival of the United States above the power they have been given, and their loyalty to the Republican Party. This is a personal opinion, but given what I have seen come out of the Republican Party for the last decade or so, I firmly do not believe this is possible, and that a Republican-controlled government will never impeach Donald Trump, no matter how egregious his crimes.
This puts America into a constitutional crisis the likes of which have never been seen in the history of the Republic. Donald Trump, his administration, and his supporters in Congress have usurped the entirety of the legal and political systems of the United States. Where does that leave we the people?
At this point, the American people are completely devoid of any and all representation within the government. Some may read that statement and point out that the government still consists of some Democratic leadership along with the Republican majority. And while this is technically true, it is a completely different matter functionally. When the majority party ignores the protests, phone calls, and E-mails of millions of American citizens around the country and still enacts legislation with the power to harm almost all of them, it constitutes a complete loss of power to the civilian population. And because the Trump Administration has now seized control of the top legal apparatuses of the country, it is now effectively shielded from any potential legal or political consequences of its actions.
The entire American democracy, therefore, is facing its ultimate test. Two questions will determine its outcome: 1) Are our representatives willing to recognize the severity of Donald Trump’s crimes and act according to the Constitution to stop him?; 2) What are the people willing to do to ensure the survival of the United States of America? Should the answer to Question 1 become an emphatic “No” as is my prediction, then it will be up to the rest of the populace to come up with the answer to Question 2. Throughout American history — including during the formation of the Republic — Americans have been willing to go to great lengths to ensure the survival of the nation and its values. I would remind our current crop of legislators of the ramifications of taking away the representation of the people they were elected to serve, lest 2017 bring about the kind of change with which they never want to confront face-to-face.