Four Threats To Democracy Greater Than President Trump – OpEd

I understand that people are genuinely scared of US President Donald Trump and while some of those fears are nonsensical, like comparing him with Hitler, others are genuine and based on his own words, bombastic tweets and wildly erratic behaviour. Yet, despite these realities we cannot ignore the fact that he is still the democratically and freely elected President of the United States of America.

For all the never-Trumpers, it is important to remember that our system of checks and balances is designed to withstand the shock of rogue actors (not to prevent one from being elected) and we must put our faith in democracy to curtail Trump whenever he strays, but never break rules to fight him; or we will just play into his hands and prove his refrain that the rules are changed when liberals do not get the outcomes they desire.

So it is really important that no matter what people think of him personally, or how much they fear his actions, that we never circumvent due process, bypass checks and balances or color outside the lines of democracy (especially when he does) in a bid to foil him, because our actions will have grave consequences and weaken our democracy for the long-term.

At the moment, I am seeing four dangerous trends, behaviours and precedents being adopted by the Democratic Party and the so called liberal “resistance” to Trump, and they must stop. The end result of continuing down these paths damages our democracy far more than any errant President can in four years.

One: Rogue Government Employees

When the parks department sent out a tweet showing larger crowds at Obama’s historic inauguration in 2008 versus Trump’s in 2017, most people viewed this as an innocuous act or laughed at Trump’s expense. However, what was at issue was not a single errant tweet but that of breaking a sacred rule – one where a government agencies should never show a partisan face in public. In the days after, we saw a slew of rogue twitter accounts springing up from within government agencies, from the EPA to NASA, that were clearly designed to humiliate Trump’s administration. The problem with this behaviour is that it compromises the integrity of each agency for the long-term by putting a doubt in people’s minds about government employees’ abilities to do their jobs, irrespective of which party is in power.

Second, the manner in which Sally Yates (the previous acting Attorney General) acted was also wrong. First, let me be clear that I fully agree with Ms. Yates stance against President Trump’s ill-conceived travel ban, but my issue is the way in which she took action. The professional thing for her to do would have been to resign.

She had every right to protest the order by resigning, but it was wrong for her to refuse to fulfill her job responsibilities. By doing this, and even more worryingly, by ordering her subordinates not to do their jobs, she signaled to all Justice department staff that they too are free to disobey direct orders based on personal or partisan whims, rather than expected to always act in a professional manner and follow protocols.

We must consider the flip-side of government employees taking unilateral actions that disobey direct orders. For the short period that President Trump’s travel ban was in effect, there were numerous reports of US Customs agents harassing and detaining people that were not covered under the order. Like Ms. Yates did, these men and women might also justify their unprofessional behaviour and rule breaking as a moral obligation to protect the nation and keep all Americans safe.

We also saw a senior Secret Service agent publicly post that she did not want to take a bullet for the President because she supported Hillary Clinton. Imagine what would happen if police across the country started to behave in the same manner (the majority of local law enforcement supported Trump) and decided that they do not want to intervene when a riot broke out in a Democrat leaning district; this is a very slippery slope. Government employees going rogue, acting insubordinately and refusing to do their jobs, rather than using proper and professional protocols of redress must never be excused or condoned on either side.

Two: Loss of Credibility of the Fourth Estate

There is little doubt after the last election that the majority of the mainstream media skews liberal and favours democrats. We can argue this but all you need do is look at the sources all liberals use to make their arguments on social media and you will find the usual suspects.

That there is some bias in the media is not an issue; all publications lean one way or another. The issue arises when respectable mainstream media outlets go out of their way to play judge and jury, and do it through a blindly partisan and subjective lens. This is NOT the job of the media. We rely on them to hold a mirror up to society by reporting the facts, and to do so objectively after taking the time to verify the credibility of their sources.

At the moment, we have a new leak from deep within the government almost every day. These leaks are suspiciously designed to embarrass Trump’s administration or target a particular official within it, and all conveniently cite ‘unnamed sources’. I am not defending Trump or his combative relationship with the media, but no matter how a President behaves, it is still the duty of the fourth estate to rise above juvenile and vindictive behaviour and to fairly and accurately investigate, find and follow the facts of every story. This is the only way the media can start to regain their credibility and, more importantly, hold the President accountable for all his actions. Otherwise they will continue to be seen by a growing majority as part of the rigged and corrupt system that Trump says they are.

It is most certainly NOT the job of the media to fill their pages with conjecture, baseless and hysterical opinion pieces, stories supported entirely by unnamed sources and “unverified facts” and even total falsehoods. The media seems to have forgotten that the biggest loser of the last year’s election was not Hillary Clinton but the mass media. Gallup found that “Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history…”

While there is no question that sites like Fox news and MSNBC are heavily biased and driven by political agendas, at least the majority of Americans trusted venerable institutions like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal because they upheld basic ethical standards in their reporting. Now these institutions are further eroding the scant trust Americans have in them by behaving like hysterical children. If they don’t start doing their jobs and once more act as the credible bridge for both sides by focusing on and ascertaining all the facts, they will be responsible for destroying a crucial check and balance and seriously weakening our democracy.

Three: Abuse of State Apparatus

If you followed the sequence of events that led to the resignation of Michael Flynn, the facts clearly show that someone high up in the government leaked highly classified information to the Washington Post. The Post first published the article about Flynn possibly being compromised based on a “… call and subsequent intercepts, FBI agents wrote a secret report summarizing Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak.”

It may well be that Flynn is compromised but that is not the issue; what is concerning is what Eli Lake points on Bloomberg News about the leak itself: “Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.” Once again this is another example of a very dangerous precedent being set in a fundamentally misguided haste by Obama appointees to take down Trump’s administration.

As it turns out Flynn did not break any law and the FBI has confirmed that they don’t believe Flynn intentionally misled them during an interview last month and they are not going to press charges. So it would seem that the media furore that led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation was an orchestrated political assassination from within the government, led by Obama era officials, who selectively leaked highly sensitive information. I am not defending Flynn – he lied and was rightly fired by the President. The point is that again this is a line that should never have been crossed. Once state power is abused and targets individuals, for purely political reasons, there is nothing stopping opponents from doing the same when the tables are turned.

Four: Democrat’s Blind Obstruction vs. Debating Issues

Democrats seem to have a short memory. Until recently they were decrying the Republican Party’s obstructionism during Obama’s tenure and now they are doing exactly the same with Trump. I encourage and expect both sides to challenge every President’s nominees, but it is wrong to attack anyone’s character; as Elizabeth Warren did with Jeff Sessions (and was rightly censured for doing so). I am not a supporter of Mr. Sessions, but Ms. Warren lost my sympathies and respect when she mounted a personal and subjective attack, rather than go after Mr. Session’s record and actions during his tenure in office. There is no excuse for such behaviour; this is the United States Senate, not third grade.

I was equally vehement when the likes of Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal attacked Obama personally, rather than his record and failed to address policy disagreements with him. John McCain is the only politician in recent times that showed character in refusing to let a woman at his rally personally attack Obama, when running against him in 2008. There can be no room for public personal attacks in politics; it only lowers the standard of discourse, leads everyone into the gutter and ensures that all Americans lose.

Also, Democrats did a great disservice to another check and balance when they permanently changed the rules in the Senate “so that federal judicial nominees and executive-office appointments can advance to confirmation votes by a simple majority of senators, rather than the 60-vote supermajority that has been the standard for nearly four decades. “ This is a necessary check to ensure that candidates from both parties are only confirmed after the necessary hearings and debates are held to evaluate and convince a majority of the Senators to support them. This is how democracy works – by driving consensus across the aisle.

Thanks to Democrats, we are now left with a lopsided rule that hacks democracy and allows any party, with a simple majority, to advance their picks without sufficient debate. Such measures are short-sighted and only weaken democracy by removing safeguards designed to protect it.

Finally, the Democrats would do well to remember that “obstructing” is not a winning strategy. The GOP learnt this lesson only after the total annihilation of their party; one that ended with a hostile takeover by Donald Trump. Democrats need to win voters based on the strength of their ideas and not blind obstruction. And this is the only way to succeed because unlike Communism, Capitalism is about ideas, not ideology. If Democrats do not heed this warning, they will suffer the same fate as the GOP did after George W. Bush.

The bottom line is that no matter how people feel about Trump, the election is over, and they have no choice but to abide by the results and live with the consequences for the next four years. That is democracy and there are no exceptions; otherwise, we must stop calling ourselves a democratic society.

For all those who believe that Trump is evil and must be removed from office, they are entitled to their views, but have only two options to get rid of him, one entirely out of their hands. They can vote him out of office in four years and use the mid-terms in two years to elect Democrats to both houses that can curtail his power and stall his legislative agenda.

The other is to wait for Trump to commit a crime that leads to his impeachment and subsequent removal from office; Clinton was impeached but this does not automatically lead to removal from office. There is no other way to get rid of a democratically elected President that does not involve a military coup, which is never good for democracy.

This does not mean we need to rollover and accept everything the President does, or not fight back when his administration strays. We must hold every President to task like we did with Watergate, the Iraq War, domestic surveillance overreach, etc. However, respecting our democracy also means we never simply get to remove a President because we find him distasteful or vehemently disagree with his views – that is anarchy.


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Nikhil Vaish

Nikhil is an independent columnist and strategy consultant. Follow @nikhil_vaish

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