Trump’s creeping coup d’état: Democrats must get ready to impeach again (Part I)

Trump’s creeping coup d’état:  Democrats must get ready to impeach again (Part I)

“The American catastrophe seems to get worse every day, but the events in Portland have particularly alarmed me as a kind of strategic experiment for fascism. The playbook from the German fall of democracy in 1933 seems well in place, including rogue military factions, the destabilization of cities, etc.”
–Michael Steinberg, quoted by Roger Cohen
in “American Catastrophe Through German Eyes; Trump says he wants to protect law-abiding citizens; In 1933, Hitler issued his ‘Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State.’” New York Times, July 25, 2020.

Questions of Individual Moral Responsibility

Some years ago I studied Modern European History at Stanford University, particularly Twentieth Century European and German history. My Senior Honors Thesis dealt with the reexamination of their past by Germans living in occupied West Germany between 1945 and 1949. It addressed, in particular, questions of individual moral responsibility for the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party and the crimes they committed between 1933 and 1945. The thesis won the prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History written during the year I graduated.

In 2017, Timothy Snyder refreshed my memories with his masterful book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Questions of individual moral responsibility have once again arisen, this time for each American living in the United States in 2020. Someday someone will write a book inquiring into how well individual Americans handled their individual moral responsibility for the rise of Dondal Trump and the Trump Republican Party, and the crimes they have committed since 2017. The crimes of Trump and his collaborators are not comparable to the crimes of the Nazis. But they are crimes.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign and especially since Donald Trump’s inauguration as President on January 21, 2017, I have observed him and his collaborators chip away at the edifice of American democracy, removing whole sections at a time.

American democracy today is but a shadow of what it was in 2016.  It appears to be a crumbling edifice, as one more brick after another is chipped away by the sledgehammers wielded by Donald Trump and his collaborators.

Trump and his collaborators are in fact half-way through the process of turning America’s 246-year-old vibrant democracy into an authoritarian state ruled by a neo-fascist Leader and his neo-fascist collaborators, who include Republican members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as many Republican state officials, and millions of ordinary citizens.

The Acquiescence of the Democrats

Notwithstanding its Republican impetus, one of the most remarkable aspects of this dismantling of American democracy has been the acquiescence of the Democrats in Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives. Having won the mid-term elections in 2018, the House Democrats acquired the great powers conferred on them by the Constitution. Yet they have been very timid in asserting and exercising these powers.

They have been more like Trump’s Republican collaborators than they would like to admit. Like their Republican counterparts, they have been afraid to take Trump on, frontally, by employing the great powers the Constitution gives them.

To be sure, the Republicans have been afraid to oppose anything Trump says or wants. Even those who couldn’t stomach Trump and his policies have chosen to retire rather than take him and his surrogates on in a Senate or a House race. Instead, they have chosen to slink away quietly in the night, retaining perhaps some hope of being able to associate with those they have worked with in the Congress or in the Republican ecosystem–where they might still hope to retain social access, and the possibility of lobbying or consulting jobs.

Democrats have been willing to oppose Trump from time to time in little ways.  After months of hesitation, they finally subpoenaed some of the administration witnesses who Trump ordered not to come before their House Committees.  On the whole, however, Trump has neutered their oversight authority through his intransigent refusals to allow witnesses to testify.  While they have taken some steps to challenge Trump (on impeachment, see Part II), they generally have failed to really join battle with him in a vigorous and loud manner.  That would have looked different: As soon as a witness refused to testify, they would have issued a subpoena, and as soon as a witness ignored the subpoena they would have gone immediately to court to enforce it.

Just in the last week or two, they called Dr. Anthony Fauci to testify about the Covid-19 pandemic and the Administration’s response to it. Trump ordered him not to go.  They didn’t even subpoena Fauci, or contemplate suing to enforce their subpoena in a federal court.  They have given up on Congressional oversight.  It no longer exists.

The Trenchant Observer

Next: Trump’s creeping coup d’état:  Democrats must get ready to impeach again–Part II
–The Ukraine Impeachment
–The Democratic Wager
–Destruction of the Concept of Truth

Trump’s creeping coup d’état:  Democrats must get ready to impeach again–Part III
–Undermining the Rule of Law
–Interference in the Military Chain of Command
–The Democratic Wager, Reconsidered

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.