Voices from the inside out: Impeachment reveals flaws of democracy

January 22, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Robert Taliaferro

One of the fundamental aspects placed in the U.S. Constitution by the founding fathers was the power to remove any President who acts as if he—or she—is above the law. The power conferred on Congress to impeach and remove the President for cause is an unquestionably wise provision in the case of the executive branch overstepping or departing from the powers afforded by the Constitution.

Such acts could establish precedents which may instigate more dangerous infractions of the law which—without such punitive provisions—would be tolerated due to such acts becoming the status quo, until they took on a form of absolutism that would be fatal to free institutions, fatal to a government of law, and fatal to democracy.


It was interesting to watch the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, not so much in listening to the proceedings and the evidence presented during the impeachment process, but in watching Trump and his supporters treat such a solemn and nationally staining procedure with the disdain and socially discordant attitude that one might expect to find in five-year-old children.

The unfortunate aspect of a president like Trump, who tests his boundaries by overstepping the line of absolute safety and conscientious conviction, is that eventually his actions become a departure from strict constitutional or legal limitations which is demanded by the public welfare of the country as a whole, not just Trump’s partisan constituents.

During Trump’s impeachment process, a lot of historical references were made regarding the impeachments of Andrew Johnson in the 19th century and William Jefferson Clinton in the 20th. During Johnson’s impeachment, one of the articles of impeachment noted that he corruptly interfered in elections, amongst other charges. If one studied Johnson’s impeachment and compared his actions to Trump’s, one might be amazed at the similarities.

The most aggravating concept about the impeachment of Trump was the constant reminders by the Republicans that the Democrats in the House of Representatives were trying to usurp the 60 million Americans who voted for him. If it were not for the uniquely archaic manner in which U.S. Presidents are elected, that argument might actually hold water.


What is sparsely addressed—if mentioned at all—is that this country is the only democracy on the planet whose chief executive is not elected by the majority of the people, but rather by an antiquated system of numerical alchemy that was designed for an 18th century fledgling experiment in democracy; a process which has not grown with the country, and the national, cultural and social imperatives that need to be considered and expounded upon within a modern democratic system.

One of the sad things about the U.S. style of democracy is that as much as it purportedly changes, it remains the same. As arrogant, xenophobic, and misogynistic as Trump is, he is only a symptom of a much larger problem, and that involves how little control the country’s citizens have over their elected officials in the executive and legislative branch, and how that lack of control expands to the judicial branch.

The solution for a large majority of the problems that exist in the three branches of the U.S. government is simple: Constitutional amendments to abolish the Electoral College; the imposition of term limits in both houses of Congress; and, the imposition of mandatory term limits for the federal judiciary rather than lifetime appointments at all levels.

Until that happens, we will be susceptible to narcissistic and elitist governance at all levels, defined not by democratic concepts, but by the continued affirmation of many of the founding fathers who felt strongly that the people were not capable of governing themselves.

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