We were hardly alone but immediately after Donald Trump’s victory in November my colleague Professor Ubertaccio (Can We Keep the Republic?) and I were sounding the alarm about the threat Trump poses to our democracy. In The Perpetuation of Our Nation I cited the work of Professors Valerie J. Bunce and Mark R. Beissinger on the potential collapse of American democracy. They write of three key factors that lead to democracies collapsing. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey implicates at least two of them.
In a post at the Duck of Minerva blog titled Taking Democracy for Granted, Professors Bunce and Beissinger spoke of three factors. First, frayed public opinion willing to place its faith in the Man on Horseback. Second, dysfunctional political institutions. Third, the role of politicians in terminating democracy.
Trump’s sacking of FBI Director James Comey certainly contributes to a dysfunctional government institution. Comey did himself and his institution, the FBI, no favors in his pronouncements on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016. But just as obviously, that isn’t why Trump fired Comey. The president had two major problems with Comey: the director refused to back up Trump on his lie that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him as a candidate; and Comey was ramping up the investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Destabilizing the federal government’s chief law enforcement agency is about as lethal a blow to public trust in governmental institution’s as one can imagine. That the White House once again bungled its explanation for Trump’s move – okay bungled is mild, they lied about it – further degrades our belief that a full investigation will proceed without fear or favor. Chris Christie for FBI director, anyone?
Undermining faith in law enforcement can be exceeded in lethality by emasculating the basis for democracy itself – thus Thursday’s news of another attention grabbing proposal: a commission to investigate (non-existent) voter fraud.
As for the politicians’ role in ending democracy, they do so in modern times by promoting rot from within: “they use legislation, appointment powers, and informal interventions to whittle away at checks-and-balances, the rule of law, and civil liberties.” Trump has been hard at work here, assisted by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.
Oh, and a reporter was arrested for persisting (there’s that word again) in asking HHS Secretary Tom Price questions about the Republican tax cut (aka health care) bill. Oh, and Jared Kushner’s sister made a sales pitch to Chinese investors for a Kushner family property that name-checked her brother and used Trump’s photo in a slide show identifying him as someone who decides who gets EB-5 visas, which interest the Chinese much more than Kushner family properties. Richard Painter, former ethics attorney in President George W. Bush’s office, called the pitch "very, very close to solicitation of a bribe” . . . and “corruption, pure and simple.”
The Doomsday Clock for American Democracy is ticking.