Democracy is messy, sometimes it makes mistakes. Fortunately, ours has built in correction methods we call the checks and balances. The first is fixed terms, most people in power have to stand for re-election. If the people are not happy with the job their representatives are doing, they can vote them out next time. That is not the only limit. Legislators are limited in power by being one of many, unless they can enlist a majority of their peers, they can do nothing. Even if they accomplish that, they have to be joined by the other house, and the executive. It’s a slow process. If there is a clear and present danger, like Pearl Harbor, they cooperate quickly, but most of the time things get a thorough evaluation. Still mistakes happen. That’s why we have a Supreme Court that can say “You overstepped your authority, try again.”
Autocracies and oligarchies can be very efficient. The boss says “do it,” and it’s done. There is a story engineers and historians share about the trans-Siberian railroad. The first 100 miles is arrow straight except for two mysterious crescent shaped deviations. The American engineers designed it like most railroads to follow the terrain to minimize the grades and avoid expensive bridges and tunnels. When they presented the plans to the tsar, he became angry, and said no, that’s nonsense, build it like this. He threw down a ruler and drew a straight line. But, those mysterious deviations? His pencil hit his knuckles. No one disagrees with the tsar, so that’s the way they built it, straight with lots of bridges, tunnels and two mysterious curves.
That is one of thousands of stories about how autocracies go wrong, the vast majority of them are not so amusing.
Once upon a time, there was a president who wanted to be an autocrat. He tried very hard and even got re-elected. Then his vice president had to resign in disgrace for tax evasion and other corruption. The following year, President Richard
Nixon was accused of complicity in a third-rate burglary of the Democratic National Committee Office in The Watergate Hotel. He lied about it. Sen. Barry Goldwater, a respected conservative stalwart, convinced Nixon to resign for the “good of the party.” His new Vice President Gerry Ford became president. Most said that Ford was a nice guy, but Lyndon Johnson said Ford played too much football with his helmet off. Ford gave Nixon a blanket pardon for all crimes he may have committed, even those not yet publicly known. “For the good of the country.” A lot of scandal was swept under the rug.
The Watergate burglars went to prison, well, Club Fed luxury prison with a golf course and no fence. Nixon accomplices went on to influence Republican politics for many years; including Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of the illegal second Iraq war.
The people have executed their first line of defense against an under-performing president who would not quit. They voted him out. He refused to accept the results, but after 61 failures in court he tried something new. He is accused of an attempted, but unsuccessful coup, with five fatalities. The House of Representatives impeached him again. He must feel honored by that distinction (the most impeachments). It will be taught in history classes for many years.
An impeachment is like an indictment. Ford defined an impeachable offense as whatever Congress says it is. This impeachment has connections to many things that the president seems to be an accomplice to. Including the murder of Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, destruction of federal property and threats to officials including then-Vice President Mike Pence. The FBI will be busy for years, as will every U.S. Attorney out to make a name for oneself.
Let’s not repeat the mistake of 1974 and “For the sake of unity just put it behind us.” The ex-president has been impeached, he deserves his day in court and the republic deserves a final chapter. Due process is a two-edged sword.
Ken Obenski is a forensic engineer, now safety and freedom advocate in South Kona. Email him at email@example.com