Partisanship and polarization is killing democracy in the United States. Excessive polarization results in partisanship encroaching in institutions that are designed to maintain the system of checks and balances . As a result of this partisanship, we see the deterioration of American democracy. An important aspect of democracy is that one group and/or individual cannot consolidate power, and that the institutions have measures set in place to prevent a democratic from turning into an authoritarian regime. Checks and balances was the United States’ way of ensuring that no one branch of government gets too powerful, and becomes autocratic. This system was also designed to keep every branch of government accountable. The impeachment trial and eventual acquittal of Donald Trump perfectly exemplifies how we see checks and balances failing and breakdown of norms, therefore as a result American Democracy is failing as well.
In September of 2019, an anonymous complaint was sent by a member of an intelligence organization. The complaint stated that in July of 2019, President Trump contacted the Ukrainian President and attempted to use his power to garner information on a democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. It was alleged that Trump withheld military aid until the Ukrainian government investigated Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. In December, the House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment stating that Trump abused his office and has been obstructing Congress.
The main problem we saw with the impeachment trial is the lack of impartiality and the discontinuance of democratic norms. The events leading to the actual trial showed how biased and partisan this trial would already be. The Republican party had voted against having witnesses testify in the trial, inhibiting the public and their fellow Senators from getting all of the information. No new evidence was able to be introduced and as a result it paved the way for the Republican party to acquit Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, had stated that he wasn’t going to be impartial prior to the trial even starting. He made it clear that he would be working with the White House as opposed to working to keep the executive branch under control. McConnell even called the President to finalize his plan on how to handle the trial. Mitch McConnell calling the President to discuss his impending trial is a blatant disregard of norms. McConnell is using his power as Senate Majority Leader to influence the trial proceedings and would not do his job of keeping the executive branch in check. During the Nixon impeachment, his fellow Republicans were on his side until new evidence came to light. Once that new evidence came to light, his fellow Republicans warned him of his unavoidable conviction and removal from office. This gave him the opportunity to resign. During the Trump impeachment proceedings, a manuscript written by John Bolton, a former national security advisor of Trump, was released and revealed that he was told by Trump to withhold aid. These new statements did not prompt the Republican into inquiring any further it instead prompted them to shut down any chance of Bolton’s testifying in front of the Senate and the American public. Taking away the American people’s chance at getting all the information.
Not only is the practice of calling the President prior to his own trial, and the disallowance of new evidence and testimony unethical, it is also displays how polarized and partisan the legislative branch has become. This combination of partisanship and polarization shows us that the defense we need to prevent an authoritarian regime is unreliable. Democratic breakdown occurs when one faction begins to ignore norms and precedent to benefit them. Authoritarian regimes are established when the current people in power are prevented from being accountable for their actions. Democratic backsliding also becomes possible when democratic institutions begin to become unpredictable and lose their integrity . The impeachment trial is one example of how Republicans are trying to establish a stealth version of authoritarianism. The party has attempted to devalue and erode the tools we have used previously to establish accountability. Impeachment and the trial is meant to make sure the President is accountable, but instead it was used as a way to undermine an opposing party. They have weakened checks and balances by not properly utilizing the powers enumerated to Congress and instead allowing the President to not be put on trial . By not allowing the President to be properly put on trial through the proper measures, the Republican party has sent a message that they will support Donald Trump no matter what. The impeachment is also an example of norms being violated. It is not normal that the leader of the Senate works with the White House on a trial that can remove the leader of the executive branch. It is also not normal for Senators to strictly vote on party lines on a matter such as the use of witnesses, that is important to make sure that the integrity of the executive branch is maintained. When norms are disregarded it becomes harder to come together and have bipartisan support because one party has become unpredictable. The impeachment trial also exemplifies how mutual toleration is no longer an acceptable norm. Because it is an election year, the parties are willing to do anything to undermine one another. Republicans are inhibiting witnesses that can potentially incriminate the President, and cost them the 2020 election. While, Democrats rushed the impeachment and did not go through the tense battle for witnesses. Because of this, the Democrats come across as disingenuous when saying they want to protect the constitution, when it looks this was a remove President Trump and Mike Pence, and win in 2020. The breakdown in norms also leads to loss of legitimacy towards Congress . Once Congress becomes gridlocked, it becomes impossible for legislation to get passed and the people begin to lose faith in the system set in place. They become susceptible to other forms of government. An executive with no accountability, a Congress that will bend over backwards to accommodate the executive, and a population that refuses to see the glaring issues are all factors that lead to an authoritarian regime. Lieberman, Robert C., Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts, & Richard Valelly. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Working paper.  Huq, Aziz & Tom Ginsburg. 2017. “How to Lose a Constitutional Democ- racy.” Working Paper. Parts 1 and 4; skim Part 3.  Varol, Ozan. 2015. “Stealth Authoritarianism.” Iowa Law Review 100(4): pp. 1673-1742. Parts I, II and III.  Linz, Juan J. & Stepan, Alfred. 1978. The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Chapter 2.