We must not undermine democratic ideals in the name of saving them

We must not undermine democratic ideals in the name of saving them
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Publication of the book "Fire and Fury" has let loose a volley of arguments that the president needs to be removed from office.

Most of the commentary isn’t so explicit; more common is talk around fitness and the complaint that people (mostly Republicans) aren’t doing anything about him.

Even less explicit in these arguments is the idea that the election needs to be overturned because America made the wrong choice. Rarely is that argument put in such explicit terms, but that’s basically what people are talking about.


The problem that these arguments run into is the idea that somehow this latest book is a big surprise in what it reveals. It is not. President TrumpDonald John TrumpOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report MORE is who he is. He is the same person he has been for decades. He is the same person who ran his campaign two years ago. He is the person elected by Americans as president of the United States, with full knowledge of who he was. 


These very real concerns were shouted from the rooftops. He still won.

Concurrent with this argument in the political universe, we are seeing a related worry among global and foreign policy strategists. These concerns focus on America’s perceived retreat from the world, often compared with China’s perceived discipline, planning and increasing influence and power across the globe.

Experts look at China’s investment abroad, their industrial policy, their trade engagement and see outcomes that they want for the United States. And while these observers are commonly proponents of the liberal democratic order, they begin to wonder why the outcomes they think are best are not produced by the process they think is best.

For different reasons, both of these groups are pressing a little bit harder for a correction to an election that they think was a grave mistake.

Impeachment as a process exists for a reason, and though the Mueller investigation continues, the process of impeachment is in many respects a political act. Without more evidence of criminality, it would in essence overturn a democratic election. In fairness, there are plenty of non-democratic aspects to our republican form of government.

For those who value outcomes over process, this is a straightforward enough choice. But for those who value process, there was a cautionary piece of news that slipped out under the notice of much of the daily crazy in Trump’s Washington. 

It was recently revealed that during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, 10,000 people were killed protesting the political status quo. China’s authoritarian political structure can result in good policy if you happen to agree with their policy. But if you don’t, you have no recourse. That lack of political voice can create bigger problems than one election you disagree with.

When people in the U.S. want change, they can vote for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump touts 'friendly' conversation with Biden Biden hosts potential VP pick Gretchen Whitmer on podcast History's lessons for Donald Trump MORE. When they want change again, they can vote for Donald Trump. And if they disagree with either or both, they have the right to say so. When people in China wanted change, 10,000 ended up dead. 

The concept of balance of powers in the American framing is an well known one, but an equally useful understanding is of a system of pressure valves designed to tame and channel the passions of the moment. Without those pressure valves, any system runs the risk of explosion.

It is true that one pressure valve is impeachment, and things may come to that; but if removal from office is seen by partisans as a simple reversal of the last election outcome, that may worsen underlying problems and undermine democratic principles in the name of saving them. 

The best way to save our political norms is to adhere to our political norms.

Matt McDonald is a partner at consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies. He was the associate communications director for President George W. Bush with responsibility for economic issues. McDonald has held senior roles in three U.S. presidential campaigns.