On September 17, 1787, delegates from the 13 colonies signed the United States Constitution, establishing it as the supreme law and affirming that the government of the United States would exist to serve its citizens.
Revolutionary when written, the U.S Constitution put governance in the hands of the people at a time when most nations were ruled by absolute monarchy. In “The Constitution: The Essential User’s Guide,” former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “What makes the Constitution worthy of our commitment? First and foremost, the answer is our freedom.” Since its signing, the U.S Constitution has been used to inspire fledgling democracies. But now it faces a threat, and the world is watching.
Democracy is fragile. James Madison wrote, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and conflict; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
To understand this, we don’t have to look far beyond our shores. When we think of Cuba, we think of a nation under dictatorship. However, on July 1, 1948, Carlos Prío Socarrás was elected president by the Cuban people. He would be the last democratically elected president of Cuba.
Corruption was rife in Prío’s administration, as it was in the administration prior. In 1952, three candidates from three political parties ran to succeed Prío. However, weeks before the elections, candidate Fulgencio Batista, who was expected to lose, staged a military coup, canceled the elections and installed himself as provisional president. Following the coup, Batista suspended parts of the Cuban Constitution.
The United States was heavily invested in Cuba and, with regrettable indifference to its people, quickly recognized Batista’s government. American industries owned most of Cuba, including almost all the cattle ranches, 90 percent of mines and mineral concessions, 80 percent of the utilities, most of the oil industry, and supplied two-thirds of Cuba’s imports. Batista accepted generous kickbacks.
With American investments, Cuba was one of the most developed countries in the region. However, a third of the population lived in poverty. Income inequality frustrated the Cuban people and the foreign dominance humiliated them.
Opposition to Batista was swiftly put down. As many as 20,000 Cubans are thought to have been executed. Fidel Castro and his revolutionary army waged guerilla warfare against the Batista regime. When the United States finally withdrew support, Batista fled the country. President John F. Kennedy described Batista’s rule as one of the “most bloody and repressive dictatorships in Latin America.”
On Jan. 8, 1959, Castro’s dictatorship began. Castro promised to restore the Constitution of 1940. He never did. He aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union and the vision for the return of a free Cuba dissipated. Castro, just as Batista, controlled the media. In 1976, the revolutionary government created a new constitution and put it to a popular vote. While not mandatory, failure to vote is frowned upon in Cuba. The Constitution of 1976 passed overwhelmingly. Cuba remained a one-party state. There would be no challenges to Castro.
The framers of the Constitution of the United States added impeachment as an instrument to remove a corrupt president. James Madison argued that it was not good enough to wait to vote the president out of office in a general election because, “He might betray his trust to foreign powers.”
The Preamble of the Constitution begins with, “We the people of the United State.” Asking for, welcoming, and accepting foreign interference in our elections is an affront to those words and threatens the foundation of our democracy. If we’re indifferent to any nation-state hacking into our election to engage in information warfare that pits American against American for the purpose of installing their desired candidate, then we no longer have a government of the people by the people or for the people. And, just as we saw happen in Cuba, the governing Constitution quickly becomes meaningless.
The actions of President Donald Trump that led to his impeachment were the exact scenario the framers imagined when they argued for the Impeachment Clause. To keep our republic we must be as John Adams said, a “government of laws, not of men.”
Darlene McDonald is a senior technical analyst and published author. She resides in South Salt Lake with her husband.