Editorial: The Protecting Our Democracy Act Seeks to Curb Would-be Autocrats

As instances of using “autocrat” and “Donald Trump” in the same sentence grow more frequent, House Democrats are taking action with a reform bill dubbed the “Protecting Our Democracy Act.” Designed to strengthen the power of Congress to check the executive branch, the Protecting Our Democracy Act is a package of wide-ranging reforms to curb abuses of power, especially by the president.

For generations, we Americans have tended to think of the U.S., as we know it, as infallible. Most of us thought that concepts like “checks and balances” were firmly protected by the U.S. Constitution. It was unimaginable that a U.S. president would think he could get away with trying to be an authoritarian leader, let alone garner unquestioning support for attempting it.

Many Americans were tuned in to the hints that Donald Trump had an autocratic bent even before he was elected—his kidding on the square about being in office for three or more terms…his stoking of fear of immigrants, and his declaration of “I alone can fix it.” Still, we thought, what’s the worst that could happen? Surely, if he went too far, he’d be batted down by the rule of law, or, worst case, we’d elect a new president when his term was up.

But he did go too far— again and again. And now, we’re worried that even if we do elect a new president, Donald Trump will refuse to leave the Oval Office. He has already begun sowing seeds of doubt about the integrity of the 2020 election to ensure that if he doesn’t win re-election, his supporters will back him in rejecting the results. He has joked on numerous occasions about doing away with his term limit, and when asked, he refuses to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if defeated.

Trump fires those who disagree with him, and pardons his corrupt friends. He has weaponized the Justice Department, politicized the military, and welcomed foreign interference in two presidential elections. He requires loyalty to Trump over loyalty to country.

Donald Trump’s presidency has had the effect of revealing the inadequacies in our government when it comes to protecting our Democracy. In fairness, our founding fathers had faith in Americans to exercise common sense and to expect common sense and integrity from our leaders. They knew that human beings like Donald Trump existed, even then; hence, the provisions they created for the branches of government to keep each other in check. They would have expected a leader such as Trump to be hastily and roundly removed from office. But we have outgrown some aspects of the government our founders laid out for us, evolving in some ways, and devolving in others. We have found ourselves not only led by the exact type of despot our founding fathers wanted to protect against, but also with a Congress that is full of his sycophantic enablers.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act is a response to Donald Trump and those who aid and abet him. It is a reform bill that Democrats hope will prevent the executive’s abuse of power from ever happening again in America.

According to a joint statement issued by Seven Democratic House committee chairs, the legislation is intended to “prevent future presidential abuses, restore our checks and balances, strengthen accountability and transparency, and protect our elections.”

“It is time for Congress to strengthen the bedrock of our democracy and ensure our laws are strong enough to withstand a lawless president,” the statement says. “These reforms are necessary not only because of the abuses of this president, but because the foundation of our democracy is the rule of law and that foundation is deeply at risk.”

The Protecting Our Democracy Act includes, among many other reforms, measures to regulate the relationship between the president and the Justice Department (Trump currently uses Attorney General Bill Barr to do his personal bidding, rather than representing the American people); protect whistleblowers and inspectors general, curb the president’s power to grant pardons, strengthen the ability to enforce congressional subpoenas, and protect against foreign election interference. It aims to prevent an American president from going rogue, abusing the office of the president, and fostering an environment of corruption in the executive branch.

Though the Protecting Our Democracy Act likely won’t receive a vote before the election, and probably wouldn’t be considered by a Republican-led Senate, it is a significant move toward reforms that could be put in place should Joe Biden be elected president, and/or should the Senate majority flip from Republican to Democratic. If neither happens, and Donald Trump is re-elected, the window for stopping Donald Trump’s autocratic ambition may begin to close. The future of our country is in unprecedented peril, and its fate depends on how many lawmakers are interested in protecting our democracy over enabling a lawless president.

The Protecting Our Democracy Act | Rep. Adam Schiff [2020-09-23]

Chairwoman Maloney’s Remarks at Press Conference on introducing the ‘Protecting Our Democracy Act’ | Oversight Committee [2020-09-23]

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