‘Tyranny of the Minority’ writers say Constitution not strong enough to protect democracy
[It’s not like we haven’t heard this before from Rachel Maddow, Professor Timothy Snyder and the “liberal” media. The significance here is the boldness of PBS News Hour to broadcast truth to the general public. If you don’t have time for the excellent 7 minute interview, see below the video for my summary of the two Harvard government professors’ main points and recommendations. – BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw]
>> America’s democracy is in an uncharted and fragile place, according to two Harvard government professors. In their new book, “Tyranny of the Minority,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt say politicians are welcoming anti-democratic extremists into their party ranks and part of the problem lies in the Constitution. Laura Barrón-López spoke with the writers about how the country got to this point.
Introduction and thesis
Laura Barron-Lopez: One of America’s two major political parties has turned away from democracy, warn Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. One key accomplice to the backsliding, they say, are politicians called semi-loyalists, who rather than expel anti-democratic extremists from their party ranks, accept and make room for them. Why is this happening? Their new book, “Tyranny of the minority,” concludes that part of the problem lies in the constitution. They joined me now. Thank you so much for joining. Steve, can you first establish we knew, as someone as an expert in the collapse of democracies, diagnosed that there is now a popular authoritarian movement within the Republican party?
To be a party committed to democracy, you have to do three simple things:
First, you have to accept election losses win or lose.
Number two, you have to not use violence to gain or hold onto power.
And three, most critically in some sense, for mainstream political parties, you have to distance yourself and be explicit and open about condemning anybody who’s an ally of your party that commits any of those first two types of acts.
Over the past four years, we have seen a decay of that in the Republican party, including among mainstream members of the senate. This is a violation of that third principle, people who knew what was happening on January 6 and did very little to stop it.
What can be done?
Laura: Daniel, your book warns that the constitution, the world’s oldest written constitution, is part of the problem, is part of what is imperiling democracy. What changes do you think need to be made?
Daniel: Some of the things we discussed in the book, we have a 15 point set of suggestions in our last chapter, including
Eliminating the electoral college. We are the only democracy in the world with the electoral college,
Introducing term limits and retirement ages for the supreme court — we are the only democracy in the developed world that does not have term limits for judges.
We also have proposals that do not require constitutional reform, like eliminating or weakening the filibuster. We are the only democracy in the world that has such a strong tool of obstruction in our chambers of congress. This often blocks majority supported policies, gun-control, efforts to address climate
change, minimum-wage. Things get held up in the national congress which frustrates citizens.
Regaining faith in the political system
These things could have a sweeping reform agenda. We have discovered that when constitutional reforms come, they tend to cluster together. People regain faith in their political system. This is part of the American tradition, whereas today we are operating outside the American tradition. This is something we need to get back to.
ATLANTA — Former president Donald Trump and 18 others were criminally charged in Georgia on Monday in connection with efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in the state, according to an indictment made public late Monday night.
Trump was charged with 13 counts, including violating the state’s racketeering act, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiring to file false documents.
The historic indictment, the latest to implicate the former president, follows a 2½-year investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D). The probe was launched after audio leaked from a January 2021 phone call during which Trump urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to question the validity of thousands of ballots, especially in the heavily Democratic Atlanta area, and said he wanted to “find” the votes to erase his 2020 loss in the state.
Among those named in the 98-page indictment, charged under Georgia’s anti-racketeering law, are Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who served as Trump’s personal attorney after the election; Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; and several Trump advisers, including attorneys John Eastman and Kenneth Chesebro, architects of a scheme to create slates of alternate Trump electors.
Also indicted were two Georgia-based lawyers advocating on Trump’s behalf, Ray S. Smith II, and Robert Cheeley; a senior campaign adviser, Mike Roman, who helped plan the elector meeting; and two prominent Georgia Republicans who served as electors: former GOP chairman David Shafer and former GOP finance chairman Shawn Still.
Several lesser known players who participated in efforts to reverse Trump’s defeat in Georgia were also indicted, including three people accused of harassing Fulton County election worker Ruby Freeman. They are Stephen Cliffgard Lee, Harrison Floyd and Trevian Kutti. The latter is a former publicist for R. Kelly and associate of Kanye West.
A final group of individuals charged in the indictment allegedly participated in an effort to steal election-equipment data in rural Coffee County, Ga. They are former Coffee County elections supervisor Misty Hampton, former Coffee County GOP chair Cathy Latham and Georgia businessman Scott Hall.
Trump was indicted in Washington, D.C., earlier this month in a separate Justice Department probe into his various attempts to keep his grip on power during the chaotic aftermath of his 2020 defeat. Some aspects of that four-count federal case, led by special counsel Jack Smith, overlaps with Willis’s sprawling probe, which accuses Trump and his associates of a broad, criminal enterprise to reverse Joe Biden’s election victory in Georgia.
But the Fulton County indictment, issued by a grand jury and made public Monday night, is far more encompassing and detailed than Smith’s ongoing federal investigation.
Prosecutors brought charges around five separate subject areas, including false statements by Trump allies, including Giuliani, to the Georgia legislature; the breach of voting data in Coffee County, Ga.; calls Trump made to state officials including Raffensperger seeking to overturn Biden’s victory; the harassment of election workers and the creation of a slate of alternate electors to undermine the legitimate vote. Those charged in the case were implicated in certain parts of what prosecutors presented as a larger conspiracy to undermine the election
Willis had signaled for months that she planned to use Georgia’s expansive anti-racketeering statutes that allow prosecutors not only to charge in-state wrongdoing but to use activities in other states to prove criminal intent in Georgia. Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute is one of the most expansive in the country and is broader than federal law in how prosecutors can define a criminal enterprise or conspiracy.
In January 2022, Willis requested an unusual special purpose grand jury be convened to continue the probe, citing the reluctance of witnesses who would not speak to prosecutors without a subpoena. The investigative body of 23 jurors and three alternates picked from a pool of residents from Atlanta and its suburbs was given full subpoena power for documents and the ability to call witnesses — though it could not issue indictments, only recommendations in the case.
Over roughly eight months, the panel heard from 75 witnesses — including key Trump advisers including Giuliani, Meadows and U.S. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who waged a failed legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to block his subpoena before ultimately testifying.
The panel also heard from several key witnesses in the investigation, including Raffensperger and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who were on the other end of aggressive lobbying efforts by Trump and his associates to overturn Trump’s loss in the state.
In January, the special grand jury concluded its work and issued a final report on its investigation, which was largely kept under seal by the judge who oversaw the panel.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney cited “due process” concerns for “potential future defendants” as Willis considered charges in the case. But in February, McBurney released a five-page excerpt of the report — including a section in which the panel concluded that some witnesses may have lied under oath during their testimony and recommended that charges be filed.
The panel’s forewoman later confirmed that the special grand jury had recommended multiple indictments — though she declined to say of who.
Trump’s attorneys later sought to disqualify Willis and her office from the case — citing Willis’s public comments about the investigation — and quash the final report and any evidence gathered by the special purpose grand jury. The motions were rejected by McBurney and the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled that Trump had no legal standing to stop an investigation before charges were filed.
In the spring, amid security concerns, Willis took the unusual step of telling law enforcement that she planned to announce her charging decision in August. Because the special grand jury could not issue indictments, prosecutors presented their case to a regular grand jury sworn in last month, which began hearing the case Monday.
Trump’s attorneys are likely to immediately seek to have the case thrown out, reviving their complaints about Willis and the use of a special grand jury in the case.
Trump has intensified his attacks on Willis and other prosecutors examining his activities, describing them as “vicious, horrible people” and “mentally sick.” Trump has referred to Willis, who is Black, as the “racist DA from Atlanta.” His 2024 campaign included her in a recent video attacking prosecutors investigating Trump. Willis has generally declined to respond directly to Trump’s attacks, but in a rare exception, she said in an email last week sent to the entire district attorney’s office that Trump’s ad contained “derogatory and false information about me” and ordered her employees to ignore it.
“You may not comment in any way on the ad or any of the negativity that may be expressed against me, your colleagues, this office in coming days, weeks or months,” Willis wrote in the email, obtained by The Washington Post. “We have no personal feelings against those we investigate or prosecute and we should not express any. This is business, it will never be personal.”
Still, Willis has repeatedly raised concerns about security as her investigation has progressed, citing Trump’s “alarming” rhetoric and the racist threats she and her staff have received. Willis is often accompanied by armed guards at public appearances, and security at her office and her residence was increased even more in recent days ahead of the expected charging announcement, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive security matters.
[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Public Citizen and other allies are organizing rallies around the country for this Thursday, August 3 — the day of Trump’s arraignment — to demand accountability and support the rule of law. I looked and the closest rally (that I can find, so far) is in Petaluma, at 5:30pm. If anyone local catches wind of a more local rally, or wants to initiate one, please email me and I’d be happy to promote it. From Public Citizen: Find a rally near you.]
Jack Smith is doing his job. The rest is up to us.
By Stephen Golub, July 3, 2023
Yesterday, a grand jury indicted Donald Trump for, in essence, trying to gut American democracy. In securing that indictment, Special Counsel Jack Smith launched a case of unprecedented importance to our country.
I’d thought that I might greet the news with relief that the inevitable has come to pass, or despair over what Trump’s abuses signify, or trepidation over the societal ruptures that await us.
But I feel something far more stirring. Not quite elation.
I’ve spent my career working to promote democracy and the rule of law across the globe. As I’ve written, the effort has largely flopped, though there have been powerful exceptions to that unfortunate rule.
One of the heartbreaking aspects of this endeavor has been how blind America has been to our own failures here at home. Even as the United States has sought to teach, train and tut-tut other societies about their democratic and legal shortcomings, we’ve ignored our own glass house.
But at this one historic moment, this country has lived up to its promise.
On this one day, we’re seeing the rule of law in action in its most vital sense: No one is above the law.
The indictment, practically free of legalese and packed with persuasive detail, makes for compelling reading. It portrays how Trump and six so-far unindicted and unidentified co-conspirators undertook a multi-stage drive to undo the election results. It superbly illuminates how they sought to pressure state and federal officials, line up fake electoral college electors, bulldoze then-Vice President Pence and ultimately ignite a mob, all in order to block Joe Biden from being certified as president-elect on January 6.
By citing abundant incriminating evidence from Trump’s own top aids and allies, including contemporaneous notes by Pence, it also shows how Trump knew that his allegations of electoral theft were lies.
In an irony that perhaps will not go unnoticed by Trump’s nativist and white nationalist fans, both the federal magistrate to whom the indictment was presented and the federal judge who will oversee the case are immigrants, respectively from India and Jamaica.
Now, none of this is to say that any of this will play out well, even if Trump is convicted. Things will get ugly, vicious, maybe even violent.
Nor does it compensate for what got us here, from Trump’s depravity to his followers’ tribal loyalty to Republican leaders’ craven acquiescence to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s ill-advised delay in approving the Trump insurrection investigation.
Furthermore, as I’ve previously suggested, the ultimate forum that will decide Trump’s legal fate will be the court of public opinion. That is, whether he will be held legally accountable for his alleged crimes against this country will probably hinge on whether he wins next year’s election.
But this first step had to happen. At this pivotal point in our history, we had to move from a hypocritical glass house to a literal, crucial courthouse. Smith and his team will do their best to hold Trump accountable for his crimes.
Now, the rest of us must do our part to ensure that Trump loses in the court of public opinion as well.
Regardless of what you think of him, you’d think that courts in Washington, Florida, Georgia or New York would determine Trump’s ultimate legal fate.
Let’s Be Civil
To start with, two upcoming New York City trials are both noteworthy.
The New York State Attorney General’s suit against him for massive financial fraud is set for October. She’s seeking a $250 million fine and to bar him, his family and his firm from doing business in the state that serves as his headquarters.
Following the favorable verdict for E. Jean Carroll in May, in which she won a $5 million judgement against Trump for sexual abuse and defamation, he verbally slammed her for her victory. This in turn will be a focus of her related $10 million defamation suit against him, which is slated for trial in January.
However, as civil lawsuits, the fraud and Carroll cases don’t carry that ultimate penalty of potential imprisonment. There’s even the possibility of Trump raising enough funds from his followers to at least partly offset his financial penalties if found liable. Nonetheless…
The Current Criminal Cases
A threat of incarceration faces the ex-president, through two current criminal indictments.
There’s the Stormy Daniels hush money prosecution, brought by the Manhattan District Attorney in connection with Trump paying the adult film star on the cusp of the 2016 election, in return for her not revealing their affair. It starts next March in New York City.
Then there’s the pending trial most in the news recently: U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith’s national security documents case, which will be held in Florida at some point. The DOJ has charged Trump with lying about and otherwise obstructing the return to the U.S. Government of classified materials.
As the indictment states, those papers pertain to “defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack.”
Furthermore, “The unauthorized disclosure of those classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”
Finally (for now, at least), there are two additional investigations which quite possibly will see Trump indicted this year.
It appears increasingly probable that, within the next several months, Special Counsel Smith will charge Trump in Washington, D.C. for activities connected to the January 6th insurrection or various other kinds of electoral interference pertaining to the 2020 election.
The Fulton County District Attorney, in Georgia, is expected to announce in August a decision regarding whether and whom to indict regarding 2020 electoral interference, possibly including multi-state racketeering chargesrelated to Trump pushing for the selection of “alternative electors” who could have subverted the Electoral College vote.
How Many Trials Was That?
From four to very possibly six major trials loom in Trump’s future.
Nonetheless, none of them seem likely to determine Trump’s legal fate and accountability in the most fundamental manner possible: whether he goes to prison. That decision rests in the hands of another court. Here’s why.
As I’ve noted, prison isn’t an option in a civil trial.
The New York hush money case is nothing to scoff at. But it’s arguably the toughest criminal case to win against him, and the one least likely to get him imprisoned even if he’s found guilty.
Instead, what becomes of Trump could conceivably hinge on the national security, insurrection and electoral theft trials that could consume much of next year. But whether the ultimate outcomes of those cases will actually be decided in Florida, Washington or Georgia courtrooms is another matter.
There already are indications that the national security documents case could be pushed back until after Election Day 2024. For one thing, the Trump-friendly judge presiding over the trial simply could decide to finalize the date for then or otherwise stymie the prosecution. For another, special considerations regarding national security trials also could delay the proceedings. And of course, there are the delaying tactics that Trump attorneys exploit in any litigation involving him.
The complexity of the potential, election-related federal and Georgia prosecutions could also delay the prosecutions of Trump for those crimes.
But such considerations are not the fundamental reasons why the courts hearing those cases might not decide Trump’s fate, unless of course they find him not guilty. This, it must be emphasized, is certainly possible. Such a verdict could be a legitimate outcome in a given case, as much as some might think or wish otherwise. Or, in a less legitimate vein, it could prove more probable by virtue of rulings that the Trumpist judge in the Florida documents trial could make.
Democracy in Action
But let’s put aside the potential “not guilty” outcomes for now.
Rather, Trump’s dodging the legal bullets rests on his getting re-elected (or perhaps another Republican winning in 2024, and then doing Trump some very big favors). Here’s how:
President Trump could in effect halt federal trials that haven’t started or been completed.
He could pardon himself if convicted.
He could similarly exert pressure to get a Georgia verdict in effect negated.
More specifically, Candidate Trump has made no secret of his plan to appoint an attorney general who will do his bidding, including halting a federal prosecution. If already convicted by the time he’s elected, he’ll seek to use his pardon power to spare himself.
Now, such scenarios are not a lock. Trump could of course lose the Republican nomination or the general election. A Democratic-controlled Senate could refuse to confirm his kind of compliant Attorney General, though that might only prove to be a stopgap measure. The Supreme Court could decide that a president can’t pardon himself. Many other twists and turns could take place.
Georgia on My Mind
But what about the potential Georgia case? It should be on our minds partly because the state prosecution there would not be controlled by the (potentially Trump-appointed) U.S. attorney general and a conviction there would not be subject to the possibility of a presidential pardon. But…
So, both federal and state prosecutions could conceivably be halted, or their convictions effectively negated.
Which brings me back to my original point. As crucial as the actual and potential Trump trials are, they probably won’t ultimately determine whether he goes to prison. As much as we yearn for the rule of law to trump politics, these crucial outcomes might not be the product of what judges and juries decide.
Rather, Trump’s legal future hinges on the November 2024 election, and on all of the intensity that will entail. That’s so sobering for a nation that prides itself on its rule of law, on no person being above the law and on justice being beyond vote counts.
In other words, the crucial verdicts regarding these profoundly serious charges will not be decided by courts in Washington, Florida, Georgia or New York.
The verdicts will be rendered by the court of public opinion.