Friday, February 9, 2024

THE "END OF DEMOCRACY": UNSERIOUS POLITICAL THEATRE

The outline of the 2024 presidential election already seems to be a replay of the 2020 election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.  But even before the recent Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, the tone of the campaigns were set.  Polls showed, and continue to show, President Biden in significant trouble.  Biden's age and obvious mental befuddlement hang over him like a dark shadow while wide spread dissatisfaction with three years of open borders and inflation causing trillion dollar spending programs, attacks on the fossil fuel industry while gasoline prices spiked and Bidens' lurch to the far Left on social policies, have provided a fertile field for Trump's campaign.

On the other side, there are many reasons for voters to say "not again" to another four years of Trump.  Trump has broken all the rules, norms and standards of decent behavior and presidential dignity.  He is a national and international embarrassment. His erratic and personal style of governance is a regrettable and dangerous substitute for any president's primary and needed attribute, leadership. The list of his abnormal traits and consummate arrogance provides many valid reasons to vote against him.  But the desperate Democrat campaign smear of "the end of democracy" isn't one of them.  

The founders of America's constitutional system created a framework with the basic foundation being avoidance of concentrations of power.  The result was the separation of powers; three independent branches of government with counter balancing "checks and balances" including a federal judiciary protected from political influence by lifetime tenure.  Legislation must be passed by both houses of Congress; a presidential veto is possible but can be overturned by a 2/3 vote in both houses. Presidential appointments are subject to Senate approval. Presidents have significant unilateral powers in some areas, especially foreign policy and trade,  if specifically granted by legislation or judicial review of constitutional provisions.  The power to issue "executive orders" is not a open ended power to rule by edict. Executive orders are subject to judicial review and often run up against the separation of powers doctrine as both Trump and Biden found out during their respective administrations. 

But Biden, or his campaign staff, have bought in to the apocalyptic strategy to avoid debates on policies which are his weakest points.  Biden has made the strategy clear;  "Democracy is on the ballot."  ''Whether democracy is still America's sacred cause . . . is what the 2024 election is all about."

The evidence that Biden himself mentions most is Trump's participation and incitement of the January 6, 2020 assault on the Capitol by mobs of his supporters. This of course was an attack on the heart of our democracy both by infrastructure and process.  This followed Trump's challenges in several key states of the results of the November vote. Challenges of voting outcomes when they are narrow is a common and legal procedure. Assault on the capitol and attempts to interrupt the counting and certification of the Electoral College votes in the Congress is not. 

But neither was successful. All Trump's challenges in state and federal courts after the election were turned down for lack of evidence. Georgia's Republican Secretary of State who officiated that state's election turned down Trump's personal request to "find" enough votes for him to make him the winner in that state. In the Electoral College certification process on January 6, Trump's own Republican Vice President Mike Pence, who was on the ballot with him, chose the Constitution and his oath to uphold it, and refused to illegally manipulate the process.  

Although, Biden himself stated "I don't consider any Trump supporter to be a threat to the country", he has made no distinction by labeling Trump and his "Maga" supporters as the underlying "threat to democracy "should Trump win in 2024. And of course, the Democratic Left in Congress, the media and opinion journals, have dutifully engaged in the simplistic and over wrought claim.  The problems with it are as obvious as the convenience of using a simple "existential" label with few specifics.                       

The few examples of an attack on the democratic system of the U.S. which the left wing media and opinion writers cite are mostly focused on Trump's admittedly hostile attitude to well established "norms of behavior"; extreme hyperbole, claims of his intention to do things quickly without specifically mentioning legislative cooperation, or questionable approval by the federal courts.  

An example of "what Trump might do in a second term" is withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which he hinted at in his first term.  Of course, this has nothing to do with the state of democracy in the U.S.  Indeed, the U.S. congress included an amendment in the 2024 Defense Authorization Act which requires any President to get congressional approval to withdraw from NATO including a 2/3 vote in the Senate.

Democrats also assert that Trump will try to repeal "Obamacare", the government health insurance act passed when Obama had majorities in both Houses of Congress.  Of course this would require legislation passed by both houses and also would itself be an exercise in democratic process. An attempt to do this failed in 2017 during Trump's administration.

Trump has himself said he could use the "Insurrection Act" to use federal troops to put down destructive political protests.  But the Insurrection Act is another democratically enacted statute. In general the term currently in use refers to 10 U.S.C. 332-335 which authorizes the president to "call into federal service" units of state's National Guard 'and "use such of the armed forces as he considers necessary in a state if any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy if it hinders the execution of the laws of the state or the U.S. "

Is such an action "undemocratic" or "authoritarian"?  Not if the President follows the text of the statute.  

The prospects of Trump actually using the Insurrection Act in this way depend on several things.  One, he has said he will, but Trump routinely says he will do things and then acts as if he didn't say them.  Two, actual anti-Trump or anti-government protests or just about any large protests that turn in to violent and destructive demonstrations or riots must occur.  Then, the process of nationalizing state national guard units will take time and the protests may have run their course before such action could be completed.  But if not then the question of what the rules of engagement of such forces should be.  Will they be armed with the usual military weapons?  Will the weapons be loaded and available for the protection of the troops? Will the risks of such a response turn into a replay of the 1970 Kent State University disaster?  Even Trump would not want that kind of disaster on his hands.

Certainly there have been episodes in which local law enforcement was inadequate to maintain order.  The 2020 protests which occurred after the police killing of George Floyd quickly turned into riots with looting and the destruction of public and private property in 40 cities in 20 states.  The city of Portland, Oregon alone suffered 100 days of violent protests while police were ordered to stand aside.  The January 6, 2020 attack on the nation's capitol itself deserved the use of National Guard units to protect the personnel and process of the nations representative government.

Democrats claim that Trump, if elected will "weaponize" the Dept. of Justice to seek revenge against his political enemies.  He has actually said he would; and then he said he wouldn't have time to do that; another episode of Trump's outrageous bluster.  But if he tried it, it would require massive changes of personnel in the Dept. of Justice first, before "Trumped up" charges against others could be brought about.  Indictments would have to be sought in Grand Juries manned by ordinary citizens. The major road block for such actions that actually went to trial would of course be the federal judiciary which is beyond the reach of the president.

But the charge of the "end of democracy" is such a grandiose political driven election tactic as to have limited influence on the uncommitted who will play a critical role in the election. It is essentially "preaching to the choir" of confirmed Trump haters. Polls don't show much, if any, impact on Biden's declining job approval.

 The nation's democratic system operates across thousands of local and state government institutions, which like the federal judiciary mentioned above are "far beyond the reach" of any president. 

However, Trump's inability as President to destroy the nation's representative democratic, federal system, is by no means a recommendation for his election.  Again by any set of historical norms, basic rules and standards of character, he should have politically disqualified himself long ago.  The fact that he leads in most public approval ratings over President Biden perhaps says much more about Biden than about Trump. 

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