By M. Francis Mirro
Last Wednesday, Desann Chin-Carty, the president and CEO of the University at Albany’s Student Association, stared down the barrel of impeachment for abuse of power and neglect of duty. On the same day, Donald Trump, president of the United States and CEO of six bankrupt businesses, was acquitted of impeachment charges in a hauntingly unprecedented sham trial that saw the appearance of not one witness.
But the similarities between a historic and precedent-setting presidential impeachment and a SA trial, which is innocuous in the grand scheme of things, do not start and stop at their shared date, perhaps having too much in common for UAlbany students to stomach.
Both presidents stood in the face of documented evidence of expressly removable crimes and proclaimed themselves the victims. They deemed the proceedings to be partisan, anger-fueled vendettas perpetrated by their Congresses. Both assumed they were acting within the ultimate authority of their position, Trump’s lawyers claiming Executive Privilege meant he really could shoot someone on Fifth Ave. and be immune to prosecution, Carty claiming she could purchase anything with SA funds if she deemed it necessary for her to perform better. Most striking, both presidents denounced their trials as witch hunts.
A little close for comfort, is it not? But hey, at least the SA will call witnesses.
No, the transgressions are not even close to mirror images; Trump undermined United States national security and foreign policy to dig up dirt on a political opponent, Carty abused an organization credit card for purchases that are questionable at best, unjustifiable at worst.
But if Carty’s trial proves anything, it proves how dangerous and contagious a “post-fact” world can be. Both presidents hold contradictory views of their power, believing it to be ultimate and beyond reproach while also pinning the negative outcomes of that power on others. If the buck stops with Trump who else could be responsible for what undoubtedly happened in Ukraine? If it stops with Carty, who else could be responsible for the inappropriate use of funds?
This isn’t a question of who has the power, it is a question of who holds the responsibility. In our current age, it has become all too easy to obfuscate any narrative, no matter how many transcripts of White House phone calls or Amazon purchase orders confirm it. Our leaders, large and small, believe all they have to do to continue abusing our trust is sow enough doubt, craft a moderately convincing counter-narrative and demonize their inquisitors, whose job it is to check on them. Plainly, our leaders think we’re stupid.
From here, the best course is not to turn our collective frustration towards anger, but towards positive, constructive action. The solution to oligarchic presidents like Trump is to not elect them and to hold them accountable when we are stupid enough to give them power. The Senate failed in their mandate because they faced no pressure from their constituents, from those who elected them, to actually follow the Constitution. But we fail ours every day when we close our eyes to leaders trying to find backdoors through the rules, when we plug our ears and scream until reality goes away.
In the future, whether it’s the 2020 Presidential Election or voting for our representatives on campus, we’d all be better served, our leaders too, by remembering it is we the people who give them power, and we the people who will take it away.