For all the accusations of “norm breaking” hurled at President Donald Trump, the early stages of the Senate impeachment trial have revealed that congressional Democrats are perfectly willing to flirt with toppling one of the few, and most essential, precedents in American history.
House managers of the trial, all Democrats, cut right to the chase: If this whole impeachment thing doesn’t work out, and Trump is acquitted, it doesn’t matter. A Trump victory at the ballot box in 2020 has been preemptively deemed illegitimate.
So says House manager Rep. Adam Schiff, arguing to impeach Trump without the accusation of an actual crime.
“The president’s misconduct cannot be decided at the ballot box,” Schiff said. “For we cannot be assured that the vote will be fairly won.”
The California Democrat, who sought impeachment before the story about Trump’s Ukraine call ever broke, accused Trump of using the power of the presidency to “cheat in an election” and again brought up the debunked Russia-collusion narrative. So, if Schiff and fellow impeachment managers can’t convince the Senate to toss Trump from office, Americans must accept the will of House Democrats and perhaps ignore the result of the next election?
So much for being the party of upholding “norms” against the Trumpian norm-breakers. Saying that Americans should outright ignore an election result is an absurd attack on an underappreciated hallmark of American exceptionalism.
While free elections and peaceful transfers of powers are now almost globally expected, there was a time this was far from the case. It almost didn’t happen in the early stages of American history.
When Ballots First Triumphed Over Bullets
The presidential election of 1800, which pitted incumbent President John Adams against Thomas Jefferson, was a notoriously brutal affair of gutter politics and mostly accurate accusations of foreign meddling. Partisans of Adams, a Federalist, were accused of being sops to Great Britain and secret monarchists. Jefferson was portrayed as a bloodthirsty revolutionary, long derided as having a “womanish attachment to France.”
The infant republic looked doomed by its failed experiment in self-rule; an anarchic laughingstock in the courts of Europe. When Jefferson’s republicans won the election, with a near constitutional crisis revolving around a tie vote between Jefferson and his vice-presidential candidate Aaron Burr (this was the days before the 12th Amendment and the unified ticket), the potential for civil war was high.
But that war never came.
It’s hard to understate the precedent the 1800 election established. It marked the first transition of power from one party—however loosely defined at that time—to another under the Constitution. That it occurred without incident, other than Adams grumpily leaving Washington without attending Jefferson’s inauguration, seems unremarkable to us today, but our view of history is often skewed by our success.
In fact, the late historian and political philosopher Harry Jaffa remarked in his book, “A New Birth of Freedom,” that “the idea of deciding who should govern by means of a free election by a whole people was something that the world had never known before the American Revolution.”
In Jefferson’s inaugural address, where he famously said that “we are all republicans, we are all federalists,” he was not declaring an end partisan politics. Far from it. Instead, he was reiterating that under the Constitution, the rights of all Americans will be protected and respected, that deliberation and the political process must and will triumph under this experiment in liberty.
Most of mankind has lived under one form of tyranny or another. Transfers of power, if they ever occurred, only occurred through violence and civil war. Legitimacy stemmed from force, not the consent of the governed. Consider that France has gone through five republics, two empires, two monarchies, and several quasi-governmental dictatorships while we have enjoyed one sustained form of government under the Constitution.
Under that Constitution, a mandate for leadership came through ballots, not bullets. It’s a streak that Americans have kept alive for two centuries, save one interlude in the 1860 when Abraham Lincoln, the Union army, and providence saved government of the people, by the people, and for the people from annihilation.
Democrats Against Democracy
Although hyperbolism in politics is practically a national pastime, the precedent of 1800 is nevertheless being eroded by leftist politicians who have spent nearly four years making the case that the 2016 election was illegitimate. For all the talk that Trump wouldn’t accept election results in 2016 if he lost, the opposite has been true.
Saying that 2020 is preemptively illegitimate is even worse, signaling to voters that they should finally take the sophomoric “not my president” bumper stickers seriously, and now perhaps literally.
Fortunately, most Americans—who are paying little attention to the impeachment saga—have no appetite for ignoring elections. But the continual attempts by a sordid junto of politicians, journalists, and deep state bureaucrats to invalidate this and future elections signals to the people that perhaps they don’t live in a republic after all.
Perhaps all the talk of championing “democracy” is a farce and they really are being ruled by a little pseudo elite in a far-off place that thinks it knows their interests better than they do. No wonder America is gripped by populist fervor.