What the crackdown on farmers’ protests says about the future of democracy in India

“Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters have been occupying major roads surrounding the capital, New Delhi, since November in protest of the agriculture reform laws.

Under the new policies, introduced by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian farmers must sell goods and make contracts with independent buyers outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces, which have long served as the primary locations for farmers to do business.

Modi and members of his party say the reforms are needed to help India modernize and improve its farming industry, which will mean greater freedom and prosperity for farmers. But the farmers, afraid they will be at the mercy of big business, remain unconvinced.

Modi’s government offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but the farmers have refused, demanding a full retraction of the laws to end their standoff.

After an 11th round of talks between the farmers and the government failed, the farmers unions decided to up the ante with a tractor march into the capital on India’s Republic Day, which commemorates the signing of India’s constitution. Miscommunication led to violent face-offs with police, who used tear gas and batons to try to turn them back.

Hundreds of police officers were injured. A farmer was also crushed when his tractor was among the many vehicles overturned in the violence.”

Abolish the lame-duck period

“On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted to end nearly a decade of Conservative Party government and elect a new government led by Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. Just over two weeks later, on November 4, Trudeau was sworn in as prime minister.

Five years earlier, a very similar series of events played out in Great Britain. On May 6, 2010, Britain held its most recent election where control of its government changed partisan hands — voters tossed out the incumbent Labour Party government and replaced it with a coalition led by the Conservative Party’s David Cameron. Just five days after the election, Cameron became prime minister.

Modern democracies, in other words, can and do transfer power very rapidly — and much faster than the two and a half months that separate President-elect Joe Biden’s election on November 3, 2020, and his inauguration on January 20, 2021, the official transition date established by the 20th Amendment. French President Emmanuel Macron won election on May 7, 2017, and was sworn in just one week later. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won his election on May 16, 2014. He became prime minister just 10 days later. Japan’s Abe Shinzo, the last Japanese politician to preside over a transition of partisan rule, also took office 10 days after his party won an election.

The dangers of a long lame-duck period have come into stark relief in the wake of last week’s storming of the US Capitol. America’s lame-duck period gave insurrectionists loyal to President Donald Trump two full months to plan the putsch that briefly occupied the Capitol and forced lawmakers to flee in terror — and they were egged on this entire time by a president who encouraged them to stage a “wild” protest while lawmakers formally certified Biden’s victory on January 6.

Meanwhile, as the sitting president, Trump retained command and control over both federal law enforcement and US military forces that eventually helped secure the Capitol. For unclear reasons, the Pentagon was reportedly slow to approve emergency requests to send troops to regain control of the building. And, for as long as Trump is president, the nation’s capital will need to rely on the Trump administration to protect against future violence.

Even before Trump seemed to cheer on a violent attempt to overthrow Biden’s incoming government, the lame-duck president spent the post-election period doling out pardons to his cronies and handing out medals to his most sycophantic loyalists in Congress. While Trump’s abuse of the pardon power has been particularly egregious, it’s hardly unprecedented. President George H.W. Bush pardoned several former officials involved in the Iran-Contra scandal more than a month after he lost his bid for reelection. President Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother, as well as wealthy fugitive Marc Rich, during his final days in office.

American history is replete with examples of outgoing presidents who actively sabotaged their successor during the lame-duck period — sometimes in the middle of a historic crisis.

The United States, in other words, pays an enormous price for its long lame-duck period. There’s no good reason the US cannot join Canada, Britain, France, India, Japan, and other nations in transitioning swiftly to a new administration after a presidential election.”

Global Freedom Is Losing Ground

“Not that it’s surprising after a year of lockdowns, travel restrictions, and emergency powers, but the world is becoming less free. A new report says that pandemic-era authoritarianism is an acceleration of a pre-existing trend rather than a new phenomenon. For years, liberal democracy has been losing ground, not just in the way governments treat their subjects, but also in the favor of the public at large.

“As a lethal pandemic, economic and physical insecurity, and violent conflict ravaged the world in 2020, democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny,” Freedom House, an 80-year old watchdog group, announced in a report published this week. “These withering blows marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.””

“Even more troubling is that governments aren’t necessarily swimming against public opinion when they become authoritarian—they’re doing so as their populations lose faith in democratic government.

In the United States, only 16 percent of Americans say democracy is working “extremely/very well” according to a February AP/NORC poll. About 45 percent say it’s working “not too/not well at all.”

The United States isn’t alone in the erosion of faith in liberal democratic systems.”

“”Freedom of personal expression, which has experienced the largest declines of any democracy indicator since 2012, was further restrained during the health crisis,” observes Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021. “Governments around the world also deployed intrusive surveillance tools that were often of dubious value to public health and featured few safeguards against abuse.””

Trump Wasn’t a Dictator, but He Played One on TV

“even if Trump’s authoritarian bluster rarely cashed out into any real-world seizure of new powers for the president, it was far from harmless. Four years of 100-proof strongman rhetoric may have the effect of building up our tolerance if and when the real thing comes around in a smoother blend. When (at least) half of the political class feels driven by partisan loyalty to defend or downplay open contempt for constitutional limits, it’s likely to make well-planned assaults on those limits that much easier to execute. Donald Trump may yet end up being a “transformational” president, not because of the abuses he managed to carry out but thanks to the dangerous possibilities he revealed.”

“By excusing or ignoring the 45th president’s disgraceful assaults on democratic norms, Republicans have largely abandoned any principled objection to such moves in the future. If and when an actually competent authoritarian comes along, what will their argument be? “Yeah, but our guy wasn’t any good at it”?”

1 winner and 5 losers from Trump’s second impeachment trial

“For the first time in the history of the United States, a defeated president attempted to overturn the election’s outcome to keep himself in office.

Trump’s effort to try to steal the election was multifaceted. He spent months lying that there was massive voter fraud. He pressured state officials and state legislators not to certify President Joe Biden’s win. He filed dozens of frivolous lawsuits. He urged members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to throw out valid electoral votes on January 6. And, that same day, he encouraged supporters to gather in Washington and egged them on. The violence at the Capitol ensued.

It was stunning conduct that flew in the face of the US tradition of peaceful transition of power. And Congress did have an opportunity by which they could make Trump face a very real consequence for this: impeachment and prohibition from holding federal office again in the future (preventing him from running again in 2024). An impeachment of a US president has never ended with conviction, but surely, if one ever would, one would think that Trump’s conduct would merit it.

But instead, partisanship triumphed, Republicans mostly closed ranks around Trump, and the vote fell well short of the two-thirds threshold needed for conviction. The result is that Trump will face no consequences — from Congress, at least — for his effort to defy the will of the voters and stay in power. That has ominous implications for the political system’s future stability, and seems to invite Trump or someone similar to try something like it again.”

Biden announces sanctions on Myanmar’s military in response to the coup

“President Joe Biden has announced that the United States is imposing sanctions on Myanmar’s military following its overthrow of the country’s civilian leadership in a coup last week.

“Biden detailed a three-pronged response his administration would be pursuing. The first is an executive order that imposes sanctions on the military leaders who organized and launched the coup, as well as their business interests and close family members.”

“The Biden administration will also block the regime from accessing its roughly $1 billion held in the US, though American funding for civil society groups and the most vulnerable will continue. And it will impose new export controls and freeze unnamed assets that could benefit Myanmar’s military-led government.”

“For Biden to end these reprimands, he said the military should relinquish the power it seized and allow Myanmar to go back to the more democratic government it overthrew.”

“Myanmar has toggled between military and civilian leadership since 1948, though the Tatmadaw, as the country’s armed forces are formally known, has remained the most powerful institution the entire time. The US and other nations thus placed sanctions on Myanmar for decades, hoping those punishments would compel the generals to enact pro-democracy reforms and stop abusing human rights.

They worked, at least for a time. Suu Kyi, under house arrest since 1989 for leading a pro-democracy movement against the military, was finally released in 2010. Then the junta gave up some of its control in 2011 and governed alongside Suu Kyi’s NLD.

That arrangement was quasi-democratic at best”

“the NLD grew popular, trouncing the military’s political arm during the 2015 legislative election — leading the US to lift sanctions the following year — and then again in 2020. It proved Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party were not only popular, but also had a mandate to strip the military of its autocratic authorities. It helped that the US and other countries lifted the sanctions due to Suu Kyi’s leadership.
That in part led her to seek bolder reforms. In March 2020, for example, Suu Kyi proposed reducing the number of allocated seats for military officers in Parliament. She received majority support for the measure in the legislature — but the Tatmadaw vetoed the move.

Ultimately, Suu Kyi’s growing influence and threat to the military’s hold on power led the Tatmadaw to launch a coup, hours before a new NLD-led Parliament was scheduled to sit for the first time.”

Myanmar and Russia show the limits of Biden’s pro-democracy agenda

“these two international crises highlight a major challenge Biden will face over the next four years, just as other presidents before him did: how to support democratic movements in places where the US doesn’t have actually much leverage, and where doing so could end up hurting the very movements the US wants to support.

In Myanmar, the US has few options to push the ruling generals to reverse course, especially since it provides almost no financial assistance to the government. As for Russia, any American effort to bolster democracy in and around it is viewed as a threat to be stamped out and delegitimized. Last October, shortly after the Kremlin poisoned and nearly killed Navalny, Putin’s regime claimed the dissident worked with the CIA.

American leaders with high hopes of ushering in a more democratic future inevitably run into the harsh reality of their limitations and the opposing forces working against them. “Every administration for the last 30 years has struggled with this,” said Erin Snider, an expert on US democracy promotion at Texas A&M University.

Myanmar and Russia, then, show the Biden administration is already in the thick of this dilemma.”

“Biden is also looking into the possibility of placing economic sanctions on Myanmar in the coming weeks. But while that would potentially give the US additional leverage over the military generals ruling the country, it could backfire.

That’s because some experts have warned that doing so could end up increasing authoritarian China’s already immense economic influence in Myanmar while pushing out democratic countries like South Korea and Japan, which have worked to develop economic and military ties to the country and break China’s “stranglehold” there.

And though China has had a complicated relationship with Myanmar’s military regime, it’s unlikely closer ties between the two countries will bode well for Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement — or for the Biden administration’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region.”

“it’s not clear the US actually has many ways of successfully pushing Russia to change. The Kremlin rejects any efforts at democratization in Russia and its surroundings, while pro-democracy groups like Navalny’s get stamped out the second they become overly threatening. The best way to punish Russia would be to get European nations to curb ties with Moscow, but that’s always proven hard for any US administration to do.

No one expects Biden, or any US administration, to depose autocrats and usher in full-blown democracies over his four or even eight years. At most, the US can move the needle a little bit so that, over time, a country liberalizes so organic democracy movements can grow. But even incremental progress requires trade-offs, ones that require the president and his team to assess how much they value a foreign nation’s democratic leanings against everything else.”

Republicans Are Giving Rogue Presidents a Pass by Redefining Impeachment

“There’s plenty of debate among legal scholars about the validity of the Republicans’ latest argument that only sitting presidents can be subjected to an impeachment trial, even if the House issued impeachment articles while he was still president. Examples exist of federal officials who were impeached after leaving office. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant’s Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached, tried and acquitted after he left office. In 1862, a federal judge who had deserted for the Confederacy was impeached and disqualified from holding federal office, as well.

Whether these precedents would persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that Trump’s second impeachment trial is constitutional is likely unanswerable. The only way to get the question before the Court is if Trump were to challenge a conviction in the Senate. Even then, the Court could dismiss the case as a political question that only Congress can resolve. Congress answered that question in the affirmative this week — presidents can be tried after leaving office, at least so long as the impeachment occurred beforehand. Moreover, it’s hard to argue that the case is moot — or stale — because the Constitution offers a remedy that’s still meaningful for citizen Trump: “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”

In light of the events of Jan. 6, the Republican consensus that Trump’s impending trial is unconstitutional is chilling.

It would mean that first-term presidents who lose reelection can, with impunity, incite mob insurrectionists to attack the Capitol while Congress is counting the Electoral College votes. As Laurence Tribe tweeted, Rand Paul’s argument “would give all future presidents two weeks at the end of their term to go on a crime spree without ever having to face the consequences in a Senate disqualification trial.” By definition, there’s never enough time between Jan. 6 and inauguration day, Jan. 20, for Congress to present and vote on articles of impeachment, transfer the articles to the Senate, swear in senators, subpoena the president, exchange pre-trial briefs, hold a real trial with witnesses and documents (which Republicans blocked the first time), deliberate as Senator-jurors and vote on whether to convict.

So where does this absurdly narrow interpretation leave us? Apparently, if you want to impeach someone for attempting to overturn an election by force, the plot needs to be successful and you have to wait until the first part of his second term to do anything about it.

It’s hard to imagine this would have made sense to the Framers.”