Tag Archives: democracy

Is Donald Trump a King?

Recently, I learned some astonishing things about the United States. One of my legal heroes, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, made astounding statements in the U.S. Senate in defence of President Donald J. Trump from impeachment charges launched in the House of Representatives.

Susan Glasser a reporter with the New Yorker interpreted what he said as follows:

Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the President can do just about anything he wants.” This is an astonishing claim. It amounts to saying the United States is not a democracy. Dershowitz was asked by Senator Ted Cruz, during the question and answer phase of the Senate Impeachment Trial of Trump whether or not the President’s motivations mattered when he imposed a condition on the release of hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid for the Ukraine’s defence against Russian aggression. If the President insisted on a quid pro quo that Ukraine investigate Trump’s leading Democratic Party rival before getting the military aid was that permitted?

Dershowitz, one of Trump’s lawyers, went beyond saying what he needed to say to answer that question. Dershowitz said, Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it. There are no limits on what the President can do. Dershowitz in effect suggested.

 I was stunned to hear this. Democracy is more than counting ballots. Counting ballots is important. It is a vital part of democracy, but it is not all of democracy. A democracy must be a country that permits all citizens to vote and for all their votes to count equally. But there are many forms of democracy. Democracy is more than that.

The majority must be constrained by civil liberties or human rights. In other words, we must have a liberal or constitutional democracy. Even majorities in a genuine democracy cannot impose their will on the minorities in all cases. There must be reasonable limits on what the majority can do. For example, the majority cannot be allowed to ban freedom of religion or freedom of speech.  Another example: the majority cannot be permitted to ban free speech, or the free press, or the freedom to assemble.

In Canada such limitations on democracy are contained in the Charter of Rights and Liberties. Added to that, to have a democracy we must have a society in which the rule of law is respected. We do not elect dictators or kings. Our elected representatives, even our top leaders, must govern by law. Political leaders must be governed by law like everyone else. They cannot do anything they want. This is the flaw in Dershowitz’s argument. Saying the President can do “anything he wants,” amounts to saying the President can be an absolute dictator. That is contrary to democracy.

I am no expert on the American constitution so don’t want to comment on it. But a democratic society cannot be led by a dictator or king, even if the term of the leader is limited for specific years, such as 4 years in the case of the United States.

Dershowitz had something larger and more profound to say, however: Donald Trump has the power to do just about anything he wants to do, and there’s nothing that the U.S. Senate can or should do about it.

Dershowitz argued,

“If a President does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment,” he argued. Dershowitz was offering Trump—and all future Presidents—a free pass. His argument seemed unbelievable: as long as the President thinks his reëlection will benefit the country, he can do anything in pursuit of it without fear of impeachment.”


Of course, earlier Trump himself made it clear that this was his position. No surprise there. He said “I can do whatever I want.” Trump’s actions and statements, ever since he got elected, make it clear that is precisely what Trump believed. If Trump is right, America is not a democracy! If Trump is right the US has elected a King!

In the impeachment trial in the Senate the House managers who acted as prosecutors, played the video of Trump making this statement over and over again. It was no surprise that Trump believed this. All of his actions and statements since being elected in 2016 made it clear that this was his belief.  Few others have expressed similar views. Therefore is it was shocking to see this position supported by Alan Dershowitz a respected Harvard Law Professor emeritus.

As shocking as all of this is, and it is shocking, what is even more shocking is that millions of Americans agree with this!  Millions don’t challenge his statement. Whatever Trump says or does, he must be right. We will soon see how many Republican Senators agree with this. I suspect almost all of them agree. In my view this means all of these people do not think it is important that the country is democratic! That is shocking!

I wonder how many Americans think Trump is a king?

Impeachment is not important; Democracy is important

I don’t know know what happened today at the impeachment hearing in the U.S. Senate as to the conduct of President Donald J. Trump, but I suspect it was not good. I suspect the Republicans who control the Senate decided it was not necessary to have witnesses for a fair trial.  That is because their minds are made up. They won’t convict not matter what, so why have a trial?

If I am wrong, and there will be witnesses, I suspect that won’t matter for the same reason. They have already decided to acquit no matter what evidence is produced against Trump.

I don’t really care about Donald Trump. Americans elected him. Americans can live with him. What I do care about is that it seems millions of Americans no longer believe in democracy. To think that in the self-proclaimed leader of the free world millions of people no longer care about whether they live in a democracy or not is deeply disturbing to me.

I never thought impeachment was a good idea, at least until Nancy Pelosi came out in favor of impeachment. I know lots of people despise her, particularly on the right. I don’t despise her; I respect her. She is a wily politician. She was largely responsible for getting Obama’s Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) approved by Congress. She did that, if you recall, when many in the house of Representatives and Senate were violently opposed to it, but she promised Obama she would deliver the votes and she did. It was masterly. If now she thinks impeachment is necessary, I find it hard to disagree with her.

What we all have to remember is that democracy is more than giving people the right to vote and then saying the will of the majority as evidenced by votes, must prevail. This is part of democracy, but more is needed to have a genuine democracy. For example, the country must respect the rule of law. Moreover there must be reasonable limits on what the majority can do. Human rights must be respected even if the majority wants to get around them. This is important.

We need rights and freedoms that are entrenched in a constitution to be a democracy. That means these rights and freedoms are constitutionally protected. There are different kinds of constitutions and different kinds of human rights. So some democracies are more democratic than others.

As well, those rights and freedoms need not be absolute. In Canada the way our Charter puts it is that limits on the basic rights and freedoms must be such as can be justified in a free and democratic society.

This ensures that the leaders who are elected must obey the law and must honour and respect the fundamental constitutionally protected rights and freedoms. In a democracy we don’t elect absolute rulers. We don’t elect kings who are entitled to do as they please. Our leaders must be subject to the rule of law and basic rights and freedoms. This is sometimes called a Liberal democracy.

Even though I am not per se concerned about whether Donald Trump is found guilty of what the American Constitution calls “high crimes and misdemeanors.” If he is found guilty of that by the Senate he will be removed from office. I believe Trump richly deserves this, but that is not for me to decide. I am concerned however that more and more Americans don’t seem to care any more if they have a democracy or not. I am concerned that many Americans seem content to have an absolute ruler. It does seem to me that millions of Americans don’t care. That I think is very important.


Hodenosaunee (People of the Longhouse)



The Five Nations (Iroquois) that straddled what eventually became the border between Canada and United States liked to call themselves the Hodenosaunee or People of the Longhouse. Iroquois is the name the French gave to them. Their territory was much larger than that of the Huron, but their population was much smaller. They made up for their smaller numbers with political savvy and a reputation for fierceness. That and their location gave them a critical advantage that came strongly into play when the Indigenous Nations started to form alliances with European powers, for that location gave them control of the major trading routes from the east coast to the interior of North America.

As a result of their larger territory the Iroquois villages were much more spread out than those of their rivals, the Huron. As a result their languages became more distinct as well. Interestingly, while the men cleared the fields for agriculture the women did the farming. Each village had its own cornfield surrounding it. The Hodenosaunee and the tribes of the west coast had the most substantial agricultural systems. Some had some farming however. For example, the Ojibwa or Anishinabe relied on an uncultivated crop—wild rice. They were not as dependent on farming however as ordinary crop farmers. According to Dickason and Newbigging, in their book A Concise History of Canada’s First Nations, “Iroquoians grew 80% of their food requirements.”

Each village had its own fledgling democracy as a result of establishing their own councils. These democracies were very influential later on the Founding Fathers of the United States who borrowed from ideas of the Hodenosaunee.  Each nation also had its won council and nation’s council would meet in one of the villages.

I was startled to learn that the leaders were chosen by women! Isn’t that heresy? It was heresy to the Europeans, but not to the Hodenosaunee. Women chose and disbarred the leaders.

Hodenosaunee (Iroquois) society was divided into clans or families similar to nations n the west coast. I wonder how that happened.

The Iroquois formed a Confederacy known as “The Great League of Peace.” A Council of 50 chiefs representing participating tribes governed the League. The League also managed the problem of giving authority to the various tribes. As a result centralization was not perfect. Member tribes often had a significant amount of autonomy. Their aim was to maintain peace and one of the main ways of doing this was through the exchange of condolences and gifts. I am constantly amazed at how often in Indigenous cultures gift giving was important.  The one who gave the most often had the most prestige. Very different from European culture where prestige went to the person who acquired the most. Again this was similar to civilization on the west coast of Canada. I use that word “civilization” advisedly.

Once more this leads me to ask who was more civilized The European invaders or Indigenous People? My point is not that Indigenous people were always better. It simply that it is far from obvious as Europeans believed, that Indigenous People were always inferior.