Don’t merely impeach Donald Trump, the Democratic House managers said, but disqualify him from office forever. They—and many members of the public, appalled by the ex-president’s actions—demanded a permanent solution to what they considered a threat to American democracy. Yet Trump’s defense at the February impeachment trial was equally stark: Disqualification would itself be undemocratic.
So which was it? Can disqualifying a president save the system? Or undermine it? And what do the experiences of other nations tell us?
In 2007, as part of a set of clemency proceedings following his removal from office for corruption, the former president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, vowed not to run for office again. In 2014, the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych—who had aligned his country with the Kremlin, leading to mass protests that he suppressed with extreme violence—was ousted, then he and his allies were barred from national office and public employment for up to 10 years. And in 2018, the leftist former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was ruled ineligible to run for re-election because of a corruption-related criminal conviction the previous year.
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