To be fair, Donald Trump is not the sole cause of America’s democratic deficit, he simply magnifies it by his oversize ego.
LONDON: So now we know. The recent impeachment of Donald Trump revealed that if you’re an American President on trial you can prevent witnesses who might incriminate you from appearing at the trial, and you can withhold any incriminating document from appearing before the jury. In fact the jury could be on your side, members of your fan club. Perhaps Donald Trump was correct four years ago when speaking in Iowa that he could stand on New York’s Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and still not lose votes. So much for American democracy.
To be fair, Donald Trump is not the sole cause of America’s democratic deficit, he simply magnifies it by his oversize ego. The principal cause of the problem is the US Senate, possibly the most undemocratic institution in the western world.
The Senate resolutely defended Trump and carried out his wishes to prevent a fair trial. There was never the likelihood that they would find Trump guilty, as it would have required two thirds of the membership to vote against him, and the Republicans, his party, hold a 53:47 advantage. Nevertheless, they could have at least listened to the evidence before making up their minds. Instead, under the leadership of Trump’s puppet, Mitch McConnell, they spinelessly voted to prevent the full evidence against the President from being heard. Again, so much for American democracy.
It would be hard to find a less democratic body as the US Senate. In Britain, many believe the House of Lords to be undemocratic, and they are correct. But the House of Lords has extremely limited powers in the British democratic process. It can only review and propose amendments to Bills from the House of Commons; it is unable to prevent Bills passing into law. The US Senate, however, shares full legislative power with the House of Representatives and has exclusive authority to approve or reject presidential nominations to executive and judicial offices. It can also provide, or withhold, advice and consent to treaties negotiated by the executive. The Senate also has the sole power to try impeachments. You can see that it is an extremely powerful body, and you would expect it to be democratically elected. But it’s not.
Here’s how it works. Each of the 50 States gets 2 Senators, regardless of the size of its population. California with a population of 40 million gets exactly the same representation in the Senate as little Wyoming, with a population of 600,000. So, a voter in Wyoming enjoys roughly 70 times more influence in the Senate as the voter in California. It’s even worse for US taxpayers in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, all of whom have no representation at all! This nonsense led to the absurdity in 2015 of the 46 Democrats receiving 20 million more votes than the 54 Republicans. Yet again, so much for American democracy.
The US Senate exists today because the Philadelphia Convention, when the Constitution was written in 1787, did not trust America to function without it. Unlike the House of Representatives, the “people’s House”, whose members were expected to be as prone to extremism and short-sightedness as the constituents they would represent, the plan was for the Senate to be the dignified, deliberative body that operated above the fray of politics. By any measure, today’s Senate is a dismal failure and not fit for that purpose.
The recent impeachment shenanigans in the Senate reflected those in 2018 during the vote to confirm Bret Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. Two years earlier, when faced with the most significant decision to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in a generation, the Senate’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, decided to hold it open for a year, offering no coherent justification other than his desire to have the Senate’s choice approved by a President who shared his ideology. It was, perhaps the most undemocratically brazen power-grab in Senate history. Once a Republican President was in power, the subsequent confirmation by the Republican controlled Senate followed weeks of discord over accusations against Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault, strongly denied, against a fellow former student. This Senate decision was described as vindictive and strongly partisan. Lawyers around the world were aghast at the nakedly political make-up of the US Supreme Court, determined by the strongly conservative undemocratic Senate. Politics should not affect decisions of any court, particularly the US Supreme Court.
An undemocratic body yields undemocratic results. The 50 Senators who voted to confirm the wildly unpopular Kavanaugh represented only 44% of the population. About the same time, the Republican controlled Senate, representing the wealthier section of America, voted to give a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthy, as if to rub salt into the wounds of the average American.
If you want further evidence of how undemocratic is America, take a look at what happens in US presidential elections. In a democracy you would expect each person to have the same value. In other words, the person elected should be the one with the greatest number of votes. But consider the 2016 US presidential election. In this, about 129 million citizens cast their votes. Of these, some 66 million voted for Hillary Clinton, and 63 million voted for Donald Trump. Yet the loser, Donald Trump, won and became President, and the winner, Hilary Clinton, lost. How crazy and undemocratic is that?
America masquerades as a democratic country, but it’s not. Next time you travel to the USA, you’re entering the Undemocratic States of America.
John Dobson is a former British diplomat to Moscow and worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s Office between 1995 and 1998.