Who will save America?: On the Crumbling Pillars of Our Democracy

Trump Fires Comey

This week, Donald Trump fired the Director of the F.B.I., James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, including possible collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign. This, shortly after Comey requested additional resources from the Justice Department to be dedicated to the investigation, and days before Comey was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. The only real precedent for such an action was the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre,” when, in 1973, President Nixon fired independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating the Watergate break-ins. The Nixon firing came one day after Cox refused to accept a so-called “compromise” by Nixon in response to a subpoena from Cox seeking copies of taped conversations in the oval office, which Nixon had previously refused to comply with. Nixon was ultimately impeached for, among other things, obstruction of justice.

The fact that Trump did this — however unthinkable such an action might have been in the not-too-distant past — is not shocking. He already fired Attorney General Sally Yates, and has proven repeatedly to act recklessly and impulsively with little regard for protocol, truth, or even the inevitable political fallout from his actions. The fact that, as of yet, nobody is doing anything about it, is — or at least should be, shocking— to anyone who purports to care about this country.

Nixon was ultimately impeached for, among other things, obstruction of justice.

I’m not going to sugarcoat this. The issues at stake here are of monumental importance. They reach the very pillars of our democracy — the separation and balance of powers, and the rule of law. If an acting president can exempt himself from the operations of the Justice Department by merely axing those who deign to investigate his actions, without consequences, then the separation of powers have failed, and the rule of law will have collapsed. This is American Government 101.

Two legs broken, two under attack.

There are four legs upon which the table of our democracy stands. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, as established under the Constitution, and a free and independent press — the so-called “fourth estate.” As it stands, two of those legs are broken. The president is immensely and dangerously unqualified and unfit to lead our nation, as he has repeatedly demonstrated. In this instance, he has exercised his executive power in an overt attempt to obstruct justice. The most logical check on such an abuse of power is Congress; however, up to now, it has failed to appoint an independent or special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s possible ties to Russia (let alone, his conflicts of interest, or any other possible area of inquiry). It is a Congress so steeped in political ideology, so eager to finally seize upon its majority power, that it is willing to accept — at least for now — a president who may have collaborated with a hostile foreign power in order to steal a presidential election. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s two legs broken, with two to go.

The remaining two legs are greatly under attack by no other than Trump himself. He has attacked the judiciary and questioned its authority over his office. He has repeatedly attacked the press, calling all news and journalism that he doesn’t like or agree with “fake,” and convincing a sizable portion of his constituents that this is so. While thus far the judicial branch has held, one has to wonder whether it has been weakened. (Horrifyingly, there has been a movement in a good number of Republican-controlled jurisdictions to call for an actual Constitutional Convention, which would allow a re-examination of our entire Constitutional framework, including, theoretically, the power of the executive branch, and the scope of the judicial branch’s authority).

Likewise, the press has held up so far — and in fact, is doing some of its best work in decades — but it, too, has been weakened by the ceaseless onslaught from the right. Today, huge numbers of Americans can’t distinguish between legitimate journalism and propaganda, and receive most of their news and information from purely partisan outlets. If Woodward and Bernstein broke news of the Watergate scandal today, half of America would dismiss it as “fake” news.

It is a Congress so steeped in political ideology and so eager to finally seize upon its majority power, that it is willing to accept — at least for now — a president who may have collaborated with a hostile foreign power in order to steal our presidential election. Let that sink in for a moment.

Who will save us?

So, how long can America stand on its two remaining, battered legs? Who is going to save us? As plain as the problem may seem to many of us on the left, we have to face the likely reality that it isn’t going to be a liberal. Congress won’t bend an inch to anyone on the left. While recent democratic activism has had some meaningful impact, it, alone, isn’t going to force Congress, or certainly not any Trump-appointed Justice Department officials, to take action. While there is still hope that the press will get to the bottom of the Russia-election affair, the press does not have the subpoena, investigative, or enforcement power of either the legislative or executive branches, and finding a smoking gun, if one exists, will be difficult. Moreover, even an incontrovertible story of Trump-team collusion would be disputed and denied by the right wing media, Trump, and his followers, leaving Republican congressional representatives in many districts free to take no meaningful action without fear of political repercussions. We are a long way removed from 1973, when people largely still believed in investigative journalism and got their news from common, reputable sources.

Who, then? And how? As Trump replaces one justice department official after another with close political allies; as GOP congressmen continue to sit on their heels; as Trump continues to rail against the mainstream media, and the right-wing media continues to downplay the significance of a potential Constitutional crisis to its viewers; as days and weeks and months continue to turn, and nobody does anything, and the story gets old, and whatever happened gets swept under the rug, and Trump effectively quells any meaningful investigation at all, and the American people never get the answers they deserve?

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper. – T.S. Eliot

Perhaps someone in Congress will step up, and in fact, just yesterday, John McCain called for an independent investigation. But will he get one? Do the few semi-principled Republicans left in Congress have enough influence to force their party’s hands? Or perhaps there are enough people left in the FBI and Justice Department to do what it is in the interests of the nation, notwithstanding the directives of the White House or the demands and expectations of new leadership? Or perhaps someone of influence at Fox News, or another influential right-leaning outlet, will, at risk of offending their viewers or adversely affecting their ratings, realize that this administration has crossed a perilous line, and take a stand against the president’s actions, appealing to conservative voters to consider the seriousness of what is at stake? (Don’t hold your breath). Where is Deep Throat when you need him or her?

America needs a hero right now. Frankly, a Republican hero. I hope like hell we get one.

8 thoughts on “Who will save America?: On the Crumbling Pillars of Our Democracy”

    1. Thanks, Sharon. I fear that this is exactly what I’m doing, but I feel this is too important to not at least put something out there and hope that it finds a target. I believe there are open-minded Republicans out there, but have been surprised and dismayed by the lack of outrage or even mild objection expressed by many of them. In fact, ANY of them. I haven’t seen a single post by any conservative person I know expressing even the slightest bit of concern about any of this. I know Trump’s favorability ratings are low, so I know not everyone is enamored with him, but so far, conservative resistance has been almost non-existent. This will have to change if we have any hope of things changing. ‘Appreciate you taking the time to read and weigh in :).

      1. Thanks, Janet. It’s funny (ok, not funny at all, but something . . . ironic, maybe?) but I almost wrote something strikingly similar a couple months back, when Trump’s first big executive order, banning travel from certain predominantly Muslim countries, was being challenged in the courts, and it was dicey for a time whether Trump would respect the courts’ orders or attempt to defy them. That was potential-Constitutional-crisis #1. We’re only five months into this thing, and are already onto potential-Constitutional-crisis #2. I’ve never seen anything like it, and yes, it scares the hell out of me. We should all feel shaky, I think, despite that a large swath of America doesn’t seem concerned in the slightest. To answer your question, I don’t think very many people appreciate what happened at our first Constitutional convention, or understand the basics of civics, government, or civil liberties at all. It’s disheartening at minimum, tragic at worst. Thanks so much for your thoughts :). – T

  1. You’ve nailed it once again, Tim. My once stable 4-legged table — though not perfect, but would at least have stayed upright for a short time as a tripod — is now a two dimensional plane and having a very hard time staying upright. One knee threatens to buckle. Perhaps that’s why I’ve felt so shaky these past many months.

    Thanks for the heads up on the threatened Constitutional Convention. I wonder how many Americans appreciate what exactly happened at our last one. We are on the brink of a 21st century civil war, in my opinion. Adding to the morass is the possibility of a cyber attack that prevents us from communicating with each other. I feel the need of a backup plan. Aka, a blog post. Thanks for providing the impetus.

  2. Thanks, Tim – again, always – for your thoughtful, impassioned, critical eye on the state of things. I’m with you: we need moderate Republicans to decide to halt the pillaging and looting of everything at stake that underpins democracy. It’s hard to imagine how so many can stand by and watch (cheer on) a psychopath dismantling institutions built to safeguard our humanity.

    T.S. Eliot’s spinning brodies in his grave…

    1. Indeed. It’s surreal. A good bit was written after the election warning us about “normalization.” I’m afraid this is happening, despite the resistance, and the longer it goes on, the worse it will get. We are on thinner ice than most of us realize.

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