By William Keenan
Donald Trump is no stranger to interfering in democracy and conventional American politics. He has refused to allow translators inside a meeting room with Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, and has often not released transcripts of calls with major foreign leaders. He has repeatedly bashed American media. On the campaign trail, President Trump openly called for the Department of Justice to investigate Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton and for Russia to hack into Democratic National Committee email servers. The latter action resulted in the formation of a special counsel led by Robert Mueller to look into his business and political dealings with Russia.
The latest allegation against Trump is his supposed pressuring of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden. Supposedly, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in exchange for more financial aid and stronger bilateral relations. If these allegations are true, they undermine everything that the United States stands for and critically injures democracy at large.
President Trump made a phone call to President Zelensky on July 25 to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden. This request was unveiled by a whistleblower within the Trump administration concerned about the potential implications of the investigation against the son of former Vice President Biden, who is now running as the frontrunner in the Democratic Primary Election. While it is true that Hunter Biden was a director of a Ukrainian natural gas company during Vice President Biden’s service in the Obama Administration, no direct evidence has come to light showing favorable U.S. policies to Ukraine as a result. This unprecedented ask of Trump to President Zelensky, on the other hand, coincides with the Trump administration’s decision to freeze up to $250 million of military aid to Ukraine.
Strong-arm politics such as this are typical of an authoritative, autocratic regime, not one typically portrayed as a shining beacon of democracy worldwide. President Trump has a seemingly cavalier attitude towards the limitations of his presidential powers, as he appears willing and even eager to wield them. He has used these powers to taint a political rival and pressure an important geopolitical ally, considering the Ukrainian geography serves as a buffer between autocratic Russia and America’s key European allies. Moreover, Ukraine exports valuable goods such as iron and steel, organic chemicals, and aircraft products to the United States. A democratic and independent Ukraine is key for American policy and initiatives in Eastern Europe, and Ukraine’s proximity to Russia provides the United States a key conduit and alliance in an important region of the world.
While it is true that presidents such as Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt have skirted democratic norms, their violations strengthened the nation in times of need. On the other hand, President Trump has violated these norms to the detriment of the nation and public good. President Trump has repeatedly used his office to personally enrich himself, to pass policies that benefit his family and friends, and to attack and investigate political rivals. Allies such as Ukraine should be allies because of their geopolitical importance, promotion of democracy, and mutually beneficial relations with the United States. Developing a quid quo pro relationship with foreign nations sets a dangerous precedent for democracy in America. Rather than using bilateral relations to benefit the American people and safeguard norms of democracy, this new “democracy” spearheaded by the Trump Administration is slowly eroding democracy while taking the shape of an authoritative regime. A democratic government does not investigate its rivals and threaten world leaders in order for compliance. President Trump questioned the credibility of the alleged whistleblower in a formal statement: “Is he on our country’s side? Where does he come from?” Remarks like these are commonplace for this president, who questions patriotism while betraying a nation he was elected to lead.