Nancy Pelosi; Donald Trump (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Alex Brandon)

Trump and the GOP ambushed American democracy — but Democrats won't fight back

Donald Trump is actively trying to destroy democracy. Nancy Pelosi risks being the Neville Chamberlain of our time


Chauncey DeVega
May 21, 2019 11:00AM (UTC)

Donald Trump, the Republican Party and their Russian allies ambushed American democracy during the 2016 presidential election.

When caught in an ambush there are three viable options.

Hunker down and do nothing. This is a losing tactic. The ambushers still win.

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Retreat and run away. This too is a losing tactic. The ambushers still win.

Attack. This is the only way to defeat the ambushers.

It would seem that the Democratic Party's leaders have not learned these very important rules. They will continue to do the first two things and are terrified of the last.

In their attack on American democracy, Donald Trump, his Republican Party and their allies have demonstrated a continual disrespect for the rule of the law, the Constitution and the country's democratic norms and rules.

As revealed by Robert Mueller's report, Trump has actually attempted to have Hillary Clinton put in prison.

Trump colluded with Russia, a hostile foreign power, to steal the 2016 presidential election from the American people. (Whether this was a criminal conspiracy or not, as defined by law, is missing the point.)

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The Trump regime has put thousands of children and their families in concentration camps. Trump also has plans to unleash America's military on the country's cities with orders to arrest "illegal aliens." Like other authoritarians, Trump has no respect for human rights and international law. In the most recent example, he apparently plans to pardon American war criminals for Memorial Day.

Trump has obstructed justice, both publicly and in private. He continues to ignore the emoluments clause of the Constitution, using the office of the president as a way to personally enrich himself, his family and other members of his inner circle through apparent bribery, kickbacks, direct payments and other schemes.

Trump encourages violence against those Americans he and his supporters view as the "enemy." He publicly admires and supports authoritarian rulers and other dictators.

Trump declared a national state of emergency, ostensibly to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but more likely  in order to expand his power by weakening the Constitution's checks and balances on his power.

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Trump has installed an attorney general and other officials who view him as a monarch who is above the law. To that end, Trump has ordered his administration not to cooperate with Congress regarding subpoenas, appearing at hearing, or surrendering documents and other information as mandated by the law and precedent.

Democracy is their enemy: Donald Trump and the Republican Party continue to enact laws that will keep nonwhites and other Democratic Party supporters from voting.

How have the Democratic Party's leaders responded to Donald Trump and his out of control authoritarian regime?

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not believe Donald Trump should be impeached.

Yet Pelosi also believes that Donald Trump and his regime have forced the United States into a constitutional crisis. Pelosi has also publicly warned that Donald Trump may refuse to leave office if he is defeated in 2020.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said during a recent appearance on ABC’s "This Week": “We are already a bitterly divided country, and an impeachment process will divide us further.”

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House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., also sounds skeptical about impeachment. He told CNBC, “It depends on what comes out. It depends where the American people are, whether they want to go that way or not. I don’t want to make it sound as if we’re heading for impeachment. Probably we’re not.”

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., who is vice chair of the Democratic caucus, told MSNBC that she believes that confronting Trump's lawlessness and disregard for democracy may further empower him: "He just wants to use this whole situation to deflect from the issues that we are working on, the legislation that we are passing, that affects real Americans.”

Laughably, in an almost full-on surrender, Pelosi is now urging prayer as somehow a solution to stopping Donald Trump's regime. Regarding impeaching Attorney General William Barr, Trump's personal insurance policy, she told CNBC that, “I wish everybody would take a deep breath and be prayerful about this.”

Many of the world's leading experts on authoritarianism, including Timothy Snyder, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky, Brian Klaas and others have issued dire and repeated public warnings about the threat that Donald Trump and his movement represent to the United States and the world.

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Instead of properly heeding these warnings by acting boldly and effectively against Donald Trump and his forces, the Democrats have instead made a choice: They will hide  behind the walls and redoubts of political expediency and convenience.

This is a baffling decision given the stakes involved.

As Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, recently told the Guardian:

It was perhaps no coincidence that Trump hosted Viktor Orbán, strongman leader of Hungary, at the White House this week.

We’ve crossed a Rubicon. For the past two years, Trump has not been able to use the Justice Department to seek revenge against his opponents and as a political tool.

Now he and his team have learned, and Trump has appointed someone in Barr who is a Washington insider, knows the Justice Department and is able to operate as the president’s hatchet man. For the past two years, we’ve said the institutions have held. Now we’re at a critical pivot where Trump has learned how to use the institutions to his advantage.

It’s a dark turn. With the decline of our institutions, the decline of our moral authority, Trump is trying to turn the the moniker of an "imperial presidency" into an autocratic presidency along the lines of Viktor Orbán or Vladimir Putin.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the future of American democracy in 2020.

In his review of Tim Bouverie's new book "Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War," the Guardian's Andrew Rawnsley offers the following advice:

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This gripping book is additionally valuable because it illuminates some eternal truths. Bad leaders hide behind public opinion; great ones lead it. Wishful thinking is terrible decision-making. ... And remembering the enormous popularity of Chamberlain in 1938, we might also note that voters can be just as guilty of self-deception as politicians.

Nancy Pelosi has been praised by some political observers for being a master strategist, as shown by her decision to not advance impeachment charges against Donald Trump at this time. Apparently Pelosi's defenders believe she is doing the "smart thing" for the "long term" by making "astute" political calculations regarding the low probability that Trump would eventually be convicted by the Senate in an impeachment trial.

Instead of focusing on those who praise her, Pelosi would be better served by listening to Rawnsley's warnings in order to avoid being the America's version of Neville Chamberlain.

In this dark time in American history, Nancy Pelosi could choose to be a hero. Instead she seems more content with being a cautionary tale and a bleak, sad, footnote in a future history of how American democracy fully succumbed to authoritarianism.


Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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