Getting rid of bad leaders – exchanging them for better ones – is usually exceedingly hard. It’s exceedingly hard in business as well as politics, exceedingly hard in Russia as well as Tunisia, exceedingly hard in 2019 as it was in 1919.
There are reasons for this, only two, and they’re simple. The first is that bad leaders generally prefer, strongly, to stay rather than go. They have tasted power and authority and their appetite was not satiated, rather it was whetted. The second is that followers generally have no easy-to-see recourse. They are too busy, distracted, or alienated sufficiently to care. Or they are too disorganized to be effective. Or they cannot figure out how to push against those more powerful than they. Or they are too scared to make a move – scared they will put themselves at personal risk, political risk, or professional risk. In consequence of action that is ineffective, or of no action at all, bad leaders linger. They linger far longer than they should because there is no easy way to remove them.
Democracies are presumed to protect people against precisely this dysfunction. Free and open elections, held at regular intervals, are intended to mitigate against bad leadership by providing a legal recourse, a way, say, every two years or four for the electorate to throw the rascal out. To vote out of office any elected official who does not measure up.
In the United States of America this system has worked reasonably well. This is not to say that all our leaders have been good or, for that matter, that all our followers have had equal voice. Rather it is to say that most of the time both leaders and followers have abided by the rules of the game. Specifically, when elected officials lose at the ballot box, or are in some other way forced out, they usually, reliably, have taken their leave. Notable case in point: when President Richard Nixon realized that he was likely to be impeached, he chose voluntarily to resign.
But what would happen if leaders and followers, or even just some leaders and followers, did not abide by the rules of the game? If they resisted the rules of democratic governance rather than played by them?
I raise these questions not as an abstract exercise, but rather because I think it likely that they will arise sooner, not later. It is improbable that President Donald Trump will be impeached. Instead, his political opponents, most obviously the Democrats, seem to be waiting until the 2020 election to push out Trump by voting Trump out. Their intention though is based on two key assumptions. The first is that whoever the Democratic candidate for president in 2020 will win. The second is that if Trump loses the election, he, like his predecessors, will go graciously.
If you buy this second assumption, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Seems to me that the only way to extract Trump from the White House without him fiercely resisting – by, say, insisting the election was rigged and demanding recourse – is to beat him in a landslide. To impose on him a defeat so complete, so unambiguous, that his tantrum will be in vain.