Democracy’s Terminal Diagnosis: Is There Hope for Remission?

First, let me say thank you to all my readers and followers for the kind words of encouragement and condolences for the loss of my father this past year and understanding that I needed to take personal time away, despite the hardships and entanglements of the nation, to grieve that loss and handle his affairs. I have not forgotten any of you nor our purpose in this ongoing fight for equality. I am happy to say I am now back at work for you and for every woman, man and child whose voice cannot be heard over the howling winds of injustice. Again, thank you for allowing me to take the time I needed. Now it is time to take this fight forward. Together, we can do what needs to be done.

Yesterday was an historic day in the United States of America. After refusing to hear testimony or review relevant evidence, after many refused to be impartial despite their oath as jurors, after the evidence presented and unrefuted clearly proved guilt of the charges brought forth, all of but a single GOP Senator [Sen. Mitt Romney, R. Utah] voted to acquit Donald J. Trump of all charges. They chose power and party over their constitutional duty and over their sworn service to the American people. While it was expected, why is it so egregious? Why does this trial and ruling have such a greater impact on our nation than, say, the Clinton impeachment trial and acquittal? Well, let me explain some of those reasons and why yesterday was such a dark mark for this nation.

First, we can begin with the fact that the Clinton trial was wholly different. The administration did not withhold evidence nor obstruct testimony. It complied with subpoenas for both information and witnesses. Second, the alleged conduct was wholly different. President Clinton did violate the law by lying under oath in a deposition about a consensual, extra-marital affair in a civil case. That said, the question was under objection, may not have been admissible, and had no factual bearing on the case as it did not substantiate the plaintiff’s claims of harassment. So, there is the possibility that even the truth would not have been admissible, but only used as cannon fodder or, potentially blackmail. This, and the fact that the House did not concentrate on the actual crime of perjury in proving its case, but on the morality of the President having an affair, meant they did not actually work to prove the legitimate case they had. Thus, acquittal was a reasonable outcome.

Note- I am not in any way defending President Bill Clinton for his actions. I supported his impeachment because, while I did not feel it rose enough to remove him from office in a legal sense, I did believe he earned the stain of impeachment on his presidency. Perhaps many people would lie in a similar situation, but that does not excuse dismissing our laws. Our leaders should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one, and he deserved to be made an example of this. Also, I do believe he used his position to attract such behavior and encourage it. He used his authority to manipulate young women and he deserves the lecherous legacy he built.

Clinton’s acquittal served to uphold the constitution. The actions of his affair were unfortunate and below the idea of the office he held and the trust placed in him as a moral leader. But it was also, and more importantly, actions which were personal in nature. Make no mistake. They did not put him on trial for the lie, but for the affair. I’m old enough I was around and watched it all, the whole C-SPAN coverage, taped daily on the old, trusty VCR. I was a Republican back then and recall the annoyance at the House’s failure to stick to the real issue. I did not care about his affair in any sense but that he lied about it under oath. I seriously doubted he was the first president with a wandering eye or loose zipper, nor that he would be the last. So long as it was consensual, the only relevance was the lie. The House failed to conduct its prosecution in a way which concentrated on why the lie deserved a conviction. Also, he could have been convicted and still not removed from office. Once convicted, the Senate would need to vote again on the punishment and determine if the crime was of such significance as to warrant expulsion from his position. Conviction without removal would have been the best outcome, as he was definitely guilty of perjury, but I did not believe that crime warranted removal from office based on the facts surrounding it.

Because of the conduct of the prosecution, no real precedent was set, other than dislodging the idea that politicians can be removed for immoral, victimless, personal actions such as consensual sexual conduct. By victimless, I am referring to victims of a crime. There are always innocent people hurt when personal trusts are betrayed, especially in such a public manner, but those private affairs are best handled as such and not in a political or public arena.

What we witnessed in Trump’s trial cannot be compared to any of this. His actions were not personal and private. They were in the direct use of his office, the leverage of his position, and in the actions and conduct of State policies and agendas, to be used for his personal benefit, and to extort foreign governments to undermine our democratic process. He then refused to cooperate in any way with the constitutional governing body charged with overseeing his conduct. He flagrantly denied and obstructed the authority of congress.

Further, the facts of the case were never in question nor refuted. The defense instead argued that believing his re-election was in the best interest of the nation superseded any governing laws or policies which he may have broken. In essence, the defense portrayed that so long as a president believes his or her actions are best for the country, no matter how self-serving, he or she is allowed to break any laws or rules they desire. They are not required to provide any evidence of actions to anyone else, nor incur any consequences for such conduct aside from election results. They contend a president can really do anything without accountability except at the ballot box. In short: if the president does it, then it isn’t illegal.

While the ballot is how we replace unsavory or ineffective politicians, it was obviously not intended to be the sole method. Further, by the defense’s own iterations, Trump is allowed to seek interference in the election, even from foreign governments, so long as he BELIEVES his actions are best for the country. This, aside from anything else, is the most dangerous precedent coming from the Senate yesterday. This is the one which will haunt us.

This precedent says that the president is allowed to cheat, to undermine our election process, our very democracy itself, under nothing more than the guise that they believe they are right. This precedent goes further to empower the executive branch as superior to that of the Judicial and Legislative branches, by being exempt from accountability for its actions. It has, in effect, created a four year dictatorship, whereby they can only be removed by an election, but is, existentially, also allowed to cheat to win that election.

That may sound a bit harsh or reaching, but it is not. This is exactly how the ruling can be applied going forward. As a result, it has made our elections less reliable by basically legalizing interference by a single party (a sitting president). Opposition candidates do not carry the same protections as the Office of the Presidency against prosecution for Campaign Finance Violations, or really prosecution of any crime like bribery, extortion, or fraud. They do not have the authority or power to circumvent subpoenas for evidence or testimony. They must follow the law, and that is a good thing. But their incumbent opponent does not have that same obligation. Sure we can hope to elect scrupulous people going forward and overcome the taint of illegitimacy already hovering over this November, but it does not change the fact that someone in the future can seize on what happened yesterday to change our nation forever.

It really is not a matter of if, any longer, but a matter of when. Will it happen in the coming months? Or will it happen in a couple of decades when the taint of this presidency has drifted into fades of history, less poignant? And is there any way to circumvent it? Can we save ourselves?

Well, maybe. Sorry, that’s the best I’ve got for you. Maybe. First, and this is the most crucial thing I can share, is that we all must become active. We need to be poll volunteers. We need to shout out when we see anything that undermines voting. Now, more than ever, we have to protect the value of our voice to make certain it is heard, loud and clear, at the polls.

Second, promote candidates who will not abuse their position or our nation. Maybe the nominees aren’t your favorite, but learn the art of compromise. No one will believe everything exactly as you do, but there will always be a best option. No candidate is a one horse pony show. Just like you, they have a spectrum of beliefs, ideas, morals, and plans for the future. But here is a real hint that might help, at least this November: any candidate who would silence or deprive anyone their vote, is a no. Any candidate who would deprive any citizen of their basic rights to love, live, work, or receive healthcare or an education based on discrimination against their race, gender, sexuality, country of origin, personal and healthcare decisions, or religion is working in direct conflict to our constitution and the people of this nation. These are the exact kinds of politicians who would use the precedent set yesterday to inflict harm on the people of this country against whom they hold a great prejudice. Be active and work against such candidates, even if you do not fully support all the positions of their opponent. Why? Because it is about the best decision between the choices we have, not just about getting everything we want.

Which brings me to the third call of action: vote. Vote in every election. Encourage your friends and family to vote. Every voice, whether you agree with them or not, deserves to be heard and counted. Every election from your school board, up. Voting is not just a flippant right, it is a responsibility. It should neither be taken for granted nor tossed easily aside. Those are the actions of spoiled people without any sense of value, who dismiss too easily the sweat, blood and sacrifice which paid for that ballot. Now we have to defend it and the only way we can is by using that very same power. So, VOTE. It matters.

The last thing I will mention comes after we successfully accomplish the first three and it is not a charge to voters, but to those elected. The only way to protect our future from this injustice, from this degradation of our democracy, is to face it head on with legislation and possibly, an amendment to our constitution. Such an amendment should better define the perimeters of impeachment and create an exact process which will apply without regard to party power. In doing this, both the House and the Senate can be held to an accountable standard and will no longer be allowed to make up the rules as they go nor be subject to undue political influence in how the process is conducted. The Judiciary Branch has been all but excluded from the process, only allowed a token appearance without any real authority to conduct the trial as a judge should. We must set it up to more closely mimic a federal trial regarding evidence, testimony, subpoena, and discovery. The House should sit as the prosecution, the Senate as the jury, and the Judiciary to oversee due process and court conduct and hold in contempt those who refuse to comply.

This is the only way I believe we could excise the cancer on our democracy and truly achieve a lasting remission. Make no mistake, history has a way of repeating itself, especially when people stop believing it can or will. This will not be the last threat facing our nation from within, but if we can learn from it, then we could come out stronger on the other side. It is really up to us to demand it.

My suggestions moving forward are not a party line thing. I’m certain that when a Democrat is in office, the Republicans would be more than happy to jump at the chance of limiting the power grab they so greedily wanted for themselves. We will want to take advantage of the fear they will have. Yes, they will be quite afraid that Democrats will use the GOP’s own actions and precedents against them. But I urge the DNC to not be what they expect. Be better. Help the people take our nation back. Help us ensure a future of responsibility and accountability. Help remove the corruption of big money donations in the hands of politicians and their campaigns. Make accountability to the people a priority and close the loopholes which allow presidents to hide their actions from their employer. Hint: We are the employers.

Unless we can do these things, we are accomplishing nothing more than treating a stage four cancer with a placebo. We are just smiling, pretending to do something and getting along okay, while the cancer continues to eat away beneath the surface, until finally our organs fail and we will have a final, disbelieving gasp as the life so many sacrificed to make a reality, dies from this world.

Freedom and equality is never really a battle won. It can be attained, but there will always be elements looking for ways to chip away at it for their own purposes. We can never stop the efforts to improve our democracy, find inclusion for the under-served, or to hear the whispers of those who have been silenced. We can never cease in our demand for justice. We can never forget that when anyone is less than equal, no one is equal.

We are one woman. We are one world.

Ann Lavendar Truong
Author & Activist

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