When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped up a copy of President Donald Trump's State of the Union address, she showed a disappointing lack of argumentative abilities. If tolerance is to mean anything, Pelosi and her fellow Democrats should have exhibited just that. Instead, she, as a role model, did the opposite by engaging in petty and irresponsible behavior. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
We recently witnessed two events that indicated the possible demise of liberal democracy. The implications should frighten supporters of democratic forms of government in which individual rights and freedoms are officially recognized and protected, and the exercise of political power is limited by the rule of law.
The growing intolerance of many "left-wing" groups is apparent in the uproar of the democratic election of the state premier of the German state of Thuringia as well as in the performance of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, publicly ripping up US President Donald J. Trump's State of the Union address. It was an official document that belongs not to her but to the public, and of which she was merely its custodian.
That does not even start to mention the entire sham "impeachment" of President Trump, in which centuries of accepted due process were thrown in the gutter. The Senate "trial," which probably should have been dismissed from the get-go as the "fruit of the poisonous tree" -- a legal metaphor meaning that if any evidence is found to be tainted or violates a defendant's constitutional rights, whatever "fruit" follows from it must be thrown out. The House, however, like the Inquisition, is allowed make up its own rules, and make them up it did. Another central problem seemed to be that a US president is obligated by law -- under Ukraine (12978) - Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, signed in 1998 -- not to hand taxpayer money over to the Ukraine without first checking to see that there is no corruption. Trump did, there was not, case closed. Trump was not only totally acquitted in a show trial that should not have existed in the first place, but his accusers seemed more guilty of what he was accused of -- the non-crimes of "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" -- than he was.
Currently, there is growing concern on both sides of the Atlantic that the ability of many on the political "left" to accept the democratic process and the rights of those with whom one disagrees is becoming increasingly rare. According to Andreas Unterberger, Austria's most widely read political blogger:
"The left exhibits mocking scorn or even aggressive violence. If a relevant part of the population is unwilling to respect democracy and those with dissenting opinions, then the constitutional state will necessarily implode."
Sometimes it seems as if the underlying intention is actually to dismantle democratic norms and replace them with authoritarian ones. The thinking seems to be: If you vote any way other than for what we want, the result is automatically illegitimate and need not be accepted. In the US, this view had been evident in the three-year refusal to accept the election of President Trump by the "wrong" people", as well as a refusal by many last year to accept the vindication of US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in yet another show trial devoid of evidence , and most recently warnings about a refusal to accept President Trump's acquittal. The title of the latest book by the noted defense Attorney Alan M. Dershowitz, Guilt by Accusation, seems to be fast becoming the norm.
In Germany, the media establishment as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel were shocked to the point of demanding the reversal of the vote for the "wrong" premier of the state of Thuringia because the election came as a result of the "wrong" votes, namely those from the Alternative for Germany party (AfD). Baron Bodissey of the blog Gates of Vienna provided background information:
"The FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei, Free Democratic Party) is a relatively minor conservative business-oriented party in Germany. Nowadays it would be described as "classical liberal" if it were in an American context. In last fall's state elections in Thuringia, the FDP just barely surpassed the threshold to seat representatives in the state parliament. The Left (Die Linke) gained the greatest share of the vote, but the constellation of leftist parties did not have enough seats to automatically form a government.
"Since then there has been wheeling and dealing by all parties in an effort to establish a viable coalition. Yesterday came a big surprise: with the support of the CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union, Christian Democratic Union) and the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, Alternative for Germany), Thomas Kemmerich of the FDP was elected minister president (the equivalent of premier or governor) of the state of Thuringia...
[I]t seemed the cordon sanitaire against the AfD had been breached. Up until now, all across Western Europe the major immigration-critical populist parties had been kept out of government: the Sweden Democrats, the PVV in the Netherlands, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the AfD in Germany. Even though those "xenophobic" parties are quite popular, they have yet to obtain a majority of the vote in their respective countries, and the other parties simply agree never to join a coalition with them. Did yesterday's events in Thuringia signal a change?"
Not quite. The cordon shuddered a little bit, but remained intact. It seems the FDP never asked for the support of the AfD, and received it unexpectedly. Mr. Kemmerich and his party were just as appalled by the AfD as [the] leftist parties were. And Mr. Kemmerich announced he would resign his position to force new elections.
Mr. Kemmerich's announcement of resignation came as a result of massive intimidation against his family, his children requiring police protection, and "Antifa" protests outside Thuringia's parliament building. In this context, it is important to note the irony of the political left. The Left Party ("Die Linke"), the successor party of the SED, the Socialist Unity party of the communist German Democratic Republic (DDR), accused the Free Democrats of believing that it was "better to rule with fascists than not to rule at all." Indeed, there are grounds to argue that it is the Left Party, exhibiting the intolerance of fascists as the predecessors of the Left Party, that was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of Germans trying to escape East Berlin by breaching the Berlin Wall. Even more ironic, it was on the 31st anniversary of the execution of 17-year-old Chris Gueffroy, guilty in the eyes of the ruling elite of wanting to leave the DDR, that the German mainstream media began its campaign of hatred against a democratically elected official.
Adding insult to injury, the strategist of the Left Party had the gall openly to insinuate that Mr. Kemmerich was voted into office "by the grace of those who murdered liberals, commoners, leftists and millions more in Buchenwald [concentration camp] and elsewhere." In saying this, the strategist and others used what is currently the most potent weapon in political discourse: the instrumentalization of Nazi crimes as a weapon against political competitors. According to the German political analyst Vera Lengsfeld, politicians and media are employing psychological terror by igniting the "Nazi nuclear bomb" and by suggesting that the election of Mr. Kemmerich occurred thanks to a "Nazi party", namely the AfD. Lengsfeld adds:
"What has taken place in Germany in the past three days can be considered a breach of the dam. Germany is witnessing the gradual erosion of democracy and the rule of law, a process that began in 2015 [during the migrant crisis] and which has become even more visible since and has ended in putsch against democracy.
"Overnight, Germany has turned into an open dictatorship of convictions. Unless true democrats display resistance and firmly defend democracy and the rule of law, it will once again become cold and dark in Germany."
Dushan Wegner, another political commentator, asks whether a country can call itself a democracy if its chancellor demands the annulment of the election and the Free Democrats buckle in the face of disagreement, only because of the election of a state minister with the help of votes of a party behind a cordon sanitaire. Wegner argues:
"From faraway South Africa, Chancellor Angela Merkel said something very painful and simultaneously very frightening and shocking: 'The election of the state minister was unforgivable and the vote must be reversed.'
"The chancellor openly demands the annulment of a democratic vote, one that she is unhappy about, and politics remains silent. I find it difficult to call those democrats that do not use all democratic and legal means to remove the chancellor from office.
"Germany currently fluctuates between democracy and absolutism thanks to Angela Merkel. Why bother exercising the right to vote when the 'wrong' choice can be annulled by the media and the chancellor through propaganda and veto?
"A Chinese proverb says: 'May you live in interesting times.' Yes, these are interesting times, and yes, it is a curse. What is positive about interesting times is that they force us to define our stance. Do we stand for democracy or for elections until the results suit the ruler?"
Josef Hueber explains in a commentary how in a pseudo-democracy, elections mean voting until the result is "correct." Moreover, it is important to use the right words: the undesirable democratic election is a "political Fukushima", a breach of the dam, a catastrophe. The consequence of elections can be an "undesirable" or unexpected result for one political side; some will be elated, others disappointed. One could argue that this is democracy; this is how it is supposed to be. The understanding of democratic processes was unveiled with what recently transpired in the Thuringian parliament.
The situation in the United States is not much different. Th recent State of Union (SOTU) address demonstrated clearly what the Democrats' view of tolerance and respect for the office of the president looks like. What began with the absence of self-avowed democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters and others ended in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripping up a copy of the speech at the end of the State of the Union address delivered by democratically elected President Donald Trump. By doing so, Pelosi disdained all America, not just the president.
Pelosi disdained the president's supporters as well as a black girl who wants nothing more than a choice in education; she disdained the Tuskegee airman honored by the president; she disdained the great economic performance of the country. She acted in a petty and classless manner, unfitting for someone holding one of the highest offices in the United States. When asked by a reporter why she tore up Trump's speech, Pelosi shot back, "Because it was the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives." What are the alternatives, Madam Speaker? The legal scholar Jonathan Turley, who disagreed with some aspects of the SOTU, said:
"She represents the House as an institution — both Republicans and Democrats. Instead, she decided to become little more than a partisan troll from an elevated position. The protests of the Democratic members also reached a new low for the House. Pelosi did not gavel out the protest. She seemed to join it.
"It was the tradition of the House that a speaker must remain in stone-faced neutrality no matter what comes off that podium. The tradition ended last night with one of the more shameful and inglorious moments of the House in its history. Rather than wait until she left the floor, she decided to demonstrate against the President as part of the State of the Union and from the Speaker's chair. That made it a statement not of Pelosi but of the House."
Pelosi's behavior shows a disappointing lack of argumentative abilities. If tolerance is to mean anything, Pelosi and her fellow Democrats should have exhibited just that. Instead, she, as a role model, did the opposite by engaging in petty and irresponsible behavior, followed by days futilely trying to have her outburst scrubbed from social media.
The entire episode fits seamlessly into a series of illiberal actions by the left in recent times. Consider the shutting down of debates on college campuses, thereby restricting freedom of speech. Or the attack on people wearing MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats. The author Kim R. Holmes explains the left's increasing intolerance as follows:
"What we call a 'liberal' today is not historically a liberal at all but a progressive social democrat, someone who clings to the old liberal notion of individual liberty when it is convenient (as in supporting abortion or decrying the 'national security' state), but who more often finds individual liberties and freedom of conscience to be barriers to building the progressive welfare state."
Seldom has the left on both sides of the Atlantic exhibited its increasing intolerance of dissenting opinions in a more concentrated manner than these past weeks. The foundations of liberal democracy are shaking noticeably. We are presently faced with yet more politically-based show trials: of the parliamentarian Geert Wilders in The Netherlands and of Matteo Salvini in Italy. It is up to the population and voters to decide whether liberal democracy is worth fighting for.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff is an Austrian human rights activist fighting for the right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the U.S. First Amendment. In 2009 she as charged for incitement to hatred and later found guilty for denigrating the religious teachings of a legally recognized religion. Her case was later accepted at the European Courts for Human Rights. She is the author of the book, "The Truth is No Defense."