The Bad Example of American Democracy

Pressure on the judicial system, aggressive attacks on his opponents and on journalists … through his methods, Donald Trump never fails to test the limits of the American political system or ceases to undermine it.

Rarely has a political statement rung so false. In a speech on Western values aimed at strengthening trans-Atlantic links ahead of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Feb. 15, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke of the rule of law and the United States’ admiration for democracy.

The West, the community born out of the Cold War, is in much better health than some in Europe would claim, claimed Pompeo. “The West is winning. Freedom and democracy are winning … We respect the rule of law.”

If these arguments worked effectively when the unity of the Western “bloc” was shaped around American leadership versus Soviet ideology, they are sadly less and less credible when coming from Trump’s administration. While the rise in populist movements and far-right parties is shaking European democracies, the United States no longer appears to promote liberal democracy but rather is the home of this “illiberal” challenge.

The famous “shining city on a hill” extolled by President Ronald Reagan that drew pilgrims at the end of their trans-Atlantic odyssey has been replaced by “Trumpism.” This very personal form of exercising power continually tests the limits of the American political system, those famous checks and balances.

Attempts To Manipulate Diplomatic Staff

In the past week alone, strengthened by his acquittal at the impeachment trial, despite challenging all the rules, Trump has defended his practice of intervening publicly in the judicial system. When Attorney General William Barr, head of the Justice Department, complained that he was unable to do his job well in an environment where presidential tweets keep disrupting the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Trump reaffirmed that “as president” he has the “legal right to do so.” It’s hard to imagine a more flagrant contradiction of the democratic principal of the separation of powers.

The head of the American executive branch has also questioned the well established practice of sharing with his team recordings of telephone conversations with foreign leaders, the cause of his impeachment. The congressional hearings during this process also shined a light on the systemic attempts at manipulating diplomatic staff for domestic political purposes. These revelations are not to Pompeo’s credit, as he is supposed to protect diplomatic staff.

These are only the latest examples of the Trump administration’s breaches of what we call the rule of law in democracy or essentially respect for the Constitution. “Trumpism” is marked by a constant climate of personal insults and attacks on representatives of the opposition and by the denial of facts and truth as a basis of information. As for journalists, they are denounced as the “enemy of the people.”

This is not exactly what we would consider “a victory for freedom and democracy.” On the contrary, in his way, Trump makes them more vulnerable to the regimes that he claims to oppose.

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