Schumpeter describes democracy by its relationship between coming to political decisions and the way in which power is acquired through a struggle for the people’s vote (pg. 269). While Schumpeter attacks the idea of a ‘common good’ that all people in a society share, he understands that government exists insofar as it is meant to represent the common good of the people. Building on the work done by Schumpeter, Lipset reclassifies democracy as a political system which supplies constitutional opportunities for changing governmental officials. This theory places extreme value on opposition leaders having the ability to come into power, and the threat of being replaced as a mechanism which will keep elected officials from abusing their power. Lipset’s focus on the constitutional opportunities for changing power is somewhat limited as existing officials can conceivably pass amendments to the constitution which would either make it easier to replace government officials, or far more difficult. While the latter is more noticeable for its anti-democratic values, leaders that seek constant removal of officials also corrode democracy. As a leader begins removing officials with some frequency, they limit the ability for opposition to become powerful enough to challenge their rule.
Throughout his presidency, Trump has emphatically replaced existing government officials and employees. Trump avoided filling major positions of power at the onset of his presidency, and has recently flared up his clean-house tendencies again, this time with the Department of Homeland Security. In early April, Trump removed Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, with two more major directors likely out the door soon. A government official within homeland security told CNN, “There is a near-systematic purge happening at the nation’s second-largest national security agency.” This comes at a time where Trump has been receiving constant pushback for his border and immigration policies. Based on Trump’s choice of White House senior advisor Stephen Miller to play an active role in these dismissals, along with those being dismissed, it is clear Trump is removing officials whose views do not align with Trump’s strategy for border security. This shakeup in the Homeland Security Department over two years into Trump’s presidency demonstrates his struggles to find a team with a similar approach to border patrol and immigration. Trump also recently dismissed Ronald Vitiello, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Soon after Kirstjen Nielsen resigned as Trump’s Homeland Security Secretary. Following her resignation, Nielsen requested time to meet with the president and discuss key ways she believes the president can establish a better relationship with her successor. While the meeting reportedly remained cordial, Trump’s focus was almost entirely on receiving her resignation letter, and replacing her with someone who would support his views with less push-back.
While it is not uncommon for presidents to bring in officials with similar views and approaches to problems as themselves, Trump has taken a drastic approach. Trump has consistently removed career officials in major governmental departments who not only disagreed with his approach, but who he believed also served as potential threats to his success in office. Trump removed personnel who had spent their whole careers in these offices, and regardless of position, could provide a stabilizing force within their respective departments.
Trump’s removal of senior officials who disagree with his viewpoints, while vaguely understandable, cuts against the spirit of democratic institutions. Members of these departments are meant to be experts on their fields of work. Having spent most of their respective careers in each of their respective departments, these people being dismissed are at the very least essential to each department’s ability to function seamlessly. Even though these officials push-back against their commander’s viewpoints, it likely comes from their better understanding of the nuanced issues. At the very least, these officials ability to previously assist presidents along both aisles suggests Trump’s leash for officials is far too short.
- Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1959. “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy.” American Political Science Review 53(1): pp. 69-105.
- Schumpeter, Joseph. 1947. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper & Brothers. Chapter 21 and pages 269-273 and 282-283 from Chapter 22.