Opinion | American democracy lingers on life support | Part III


Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Wikkimedia Commons

Former President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the “Rally to Protect Our Elections” in Phoenix on July 24, 2021. Senior columnist Andrew Prozorovsky discusses Trump’s past actions as president and other flaws within the American political system.

By Andrew Prozorovsky, Senior Columnist

Former President Donald Trump, using his signature populist messaging, correctly identified Washington, D.C. as a swamp, but he failed to demonstrate that he was any different from the corrupt, self-enriching caricature he illustrated.

One of the former President’s last acts on his way out the door was revoking an executive order he signed at the beginning of his term to curb the “revolving door” and disallow White House staffers from joining lobbying firms. At best, his executive order was disingenuous grandstanding. At worst, it was a deliberate way to prevent former Obama officials from becoming lobbyists while intending to allow his own people that privilege from the beginning.

In Washington, politicians are rarely held accountable. When asked about Hatch Act violations, a commonplace occurrence within the Trump White House, then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows attested, “no one (outside of Washington) really cares.”

Campaign finance violations, such as misuse of campaign funds, are difficult to track, but when they are found, they are routinely ignored. Politicians, such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are accused of using staffers for personal errands, an ethics violation, with impunity.

When a Republican commits the offense, their party refuses to hold them accountable, and if the Democratic party then pursues an investigation, it is branded as politically-motivated. Democrats do a better job holding their own accountable, to an occasional fault.

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Many countries grant their politicians some form of parliamentary or legislative immunity, free from criminal or civil prosecution. While America tries not to be as explicit about its prosecutorial protection for politicians, it would almost be more respectable to codify it.

Why even fund watchdog agencies if their findings don’t actually engender real consequences? Why go through the trouble to hire inspectors general if President Trump could fire or replace five of them on a whim?

America has been rudely awakened to the paradox of prosecuting politicians: Prosecute politicians and risk mimicking banana republics where political prosecutions are more common or choose to effectively grant amnesty to politicians who engage in corrupt behavior.

The electoral system is clearly busted, a conclusion the country should have arrived at after Bush v. Gore. The fact that an overturn of the 2024 election through state legislative channels is even a plausible reality reflects the fact that there aren’t just cracks in the system – the system is pieces of a broken vase crudely taped together while we all collectively pretend it will hold.

And election denialism has pervaded even the least competitive races. Instead of conceding, a Republican House candidate in Florida, who secured less than 20% of the vote in the heavily Democratic district, chose to file lawsuits alleging irregularities. Though the lawsuit will likely be thrown out, the idea that a blowout election result could be overturned by a judge exhibits issues with the process, the media coverage and the character of the candidates like this one.

While campaign finance laws remain tragically inept after Citizens United v. FEC, it is beyond difficult to out-organize big-money donors (whose obligations to disclose have gotten thinner and thinner over the years) and difficult to overcome corporate media apparatuses like Fox.

American democracy is headed for the rocks. A potential death spiral. A Canadian political scientist and professor warns that the U.S. may succumb to authoritarianism as soon as 2030 (a scenario like Viktor Orban’s rule in Hungary, who Trump has praised). Now is the time for action and radical reform, not sitting on hands. Certainly, the filibuster is not worth the inaction.

Congress must prohibit legislators from buying and selling stocks. Congress must pass either bill regarding renewed nationwide voting standards. Currently, it looks grim, as Senator Kyrsten Sinema prefers to keep her head in the clouds, where allowing 50 members, a majority, of the Senate to pass legislation would equate to signing America’s death certificate.

Regardless, Democrats must continue the pursuit (fun fact: The Voting Rights Act of 1965, during the time of its debate, was also criticized as a “federal takeover of elections” and a “power grab.” Some things never change).

American institutions are worth believing in. But that commitment to the institutions must be reflected through a commitment to reform them as necessary. It must be reflected through our ability to recognize toxic politicians and oust them for more righteous candidates. The Constitution is a living document. Let’s not ignore the ugly, dilapidated parts of American democracy in the name of faux-patriotism. Let’s work to remedy and save the sick man.

Andrew is a senior in LAS.

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