At the same time the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry against him, it is becoming increasingly clear that the president of the United States, in the way he exercises power, is undermining democracy.
The words have meaning. “We are at war,” President Donald Trump warned on Thursday, Sept. 26, referring to the decision made by the House of Representatives, under the control of the Democratic opposition, to begin impeachment proceedings.
The commander in chief of the United States is not only “at war” with the party that opposes him in Congress and will run a candidate against him in 2020. He is also – and this is more serious – at war with the United States’ democratic institutions.
The decision announced by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open an inquiry against Trump – the first step in impeachment proceedings – in light of remarks made public by the publication of a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is very risky. There is no guarantee it will work – none of the three previous impeachment proceedings resulted in the president being removed from office – and there is no guarantee that the process will not backfire on Democrats 13 months before the president’s term ends.
But did Democrats have a choice? The framework within which American politics takes place has fundamentally changed in comparison to previous occupants of the White House. Executive, legislative and judicial power no longer seem to follow the same rules. Ever since the Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, Trump has rejected all forms of congressional oversight.
The Battle Will Be Hard
His attacks on the courts, police and intelligence services, and multiple government agencies, and his constant hostility toward the media, which he regularly calls the “enemy of the people,” spreaders of “fake news” and corrupt, have increased in the past three years. It is becoming increasingly clear that Trump, in the way he exercises power, is undermining democracy.
What the July 25 telephone conversation between Trump and his young Ukrainian counterpart insinuates goes even further. If the inquiry confirms it, this is a case of an American president abusing power by giving military aid to a foreign country on the condition that it intervene against his likely rival in a presidential election.
Confronted with this president who defies norms, Democratic representatives felt duty-bound to draw a line beyond which they feel America’s famous system of checks and balances can no longer function. In their eyes, this line has been crossed.
The battle will be hard. Bill Clinton, the last president who was impeached after being accused of lying about his relationship with White House intern Monika Lewinsky in 1998, fought back and was eventually acquitted, but he accepted the rules and followed procedure.
Trump, of course, plays out of bounds, surrounding himself with people who do not care about norms and refuting the evidence. Forced to make the transcript of his conversation with the Ukrainian president public, he claimed on social media that it proves he is innocent, while it is, in fact, damning. As far as he is concerned, anything goes. As far as American democracy is concerned, this risky test will be crucial.