So Winston Churchill once said. But not all democracies are equal. How bad does it have to get before we realize our particular form of democracy is broken?

But it’s half a year into his presidency and pollsters are already asking if Donald Trump should be impeached. And worse (or better): nearly half the respondents think he should be.

It’s not Trump’s fault. It’s our fault for having a system that let this neurotic blowhard become one of a baker’s dozen of Republican candidates and then end up as the preferred option, the chosen one.

Not that the Democrats, mind you, were doing much better: they opted for the wife of a former president. A population of 320 million and we get Bill Clinton’s wife versus a disreputable billionaire narcissist.

But maybe it’s not that the system is broken. Maybe the real problem is, it’s just a lousy system.

Time, once again, to pitch the parliamentary approach.

Our Founding Fathers, understandably — after fighting a long bloody war to escape British colonialism — were not predisposed to choose the British political system.

And, indeed, the presidential system worked pretty well at first: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison.

But it went downhill pretty quickly: Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan.

And if, in later times, it occasionally worked well — Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR — that was definitely the exception.

We lucked out with Barack Obama, a lawyer whose total Washington experience prior to the White House consisted of half a term as a US Senator. Less so with the ex-governor of Texas who first brought us a war in Afghanistan — OK, we’ll cut him some slack for over-responding to 9/11 — and a much more destabilizing one in Iraq. (The press wonders these days what hold Russia’s Putin has over Trump. Iran’s ayatollahs obviously had no control over George W. Bush, but his invasion of Iraq did more to heighten Iran’s position in the Middle East than anything any Iranian government could have done.)

In fact, electing a president is a dangerous crapshoot. We’ve got another three and a half years of Trump in the Oval Office — assuming he’ll last that long.

His current all-consuming paranoia about Jeff Sessions’ recusal from any involvement with the Russian probe — something Trump has been aware of for months — is only the most recent example of his increasingly bizarre behavior. As Republican senators break from Trump and speak up in support of Sessions, what’s behind this self-sabotage? Is it just a total inability to control his emotions, or is it the early stages of dementia? Anyway, which is worse?

And when what now seems inevitable happens and Trump does finally go — impeached, quit, whatever — the country will face, as its uniter-in-chief at a truly divisive and critical moment, a right-wing evangelical (perhaps chosen purposely by Trump to make us think twice about ditching him).

 


And if Sessions doesn’t do Trump’s bidding, how will he find someone else to fire Robert Mueller and deep-six the Russian probe? Surely Trump remembers Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre — and the end result.

Remember that trite expression: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” However Trump’s presidency ultimately plays out, it seems increasingly unlikely that we won’t eventually be facing our second serious constitutional crisis in just over four decades.

And beyond that, what’s one to say about a democratic system in which the winner loses by over three million popular votes? And where Vermont, with its population of just over 600,000, has the same number of senators as California with its 39,000,000? Or where gerrymandered districts distort the popular will and can be racist as well?

The reason should be obvious. It’s not the fault of the electorate that gave us a Nixon — a totally dishonest professional politician — or a Trump — a totally dishonest political neophyte. It’s the fault of the system.

A parliamentary system lets the winning professionals choose the one from their ranks that they think most competent to be the country’s leader. Of course, they’re not always going to get it right. But when they get it wrong, they can cut their losses. With our system, we can get eight years of George W. Bush — and then top it off with Trump less than a decade later.

Nor is it just the end result that is preferable in a parliamentary system: the getting there is much quicker and infinitely cheaper. Parties in last month’s British elections — whose run-up took all of six weeks — spent well under $100 million. In last November’s US elections — after nearly two years of politicking — it was just under $7 billion.

But realistically, such a monumental change — from a presidential system to a parliamentary one — will never happen. There will never be a sufficiently large groundswell for change. And, anyway, most Americans think Congress, and its professional politicians, are the problem, not the solution.

So, we’re doomed to continue with a system that rewards fundraising at the expense of competence; and that promotes political dynasties — Clintons and Bushes — at the expense of democracy.

No wonder the vast majority of Americans have such a low opinion of our politicians. But it’s not entirely their fault. It’s the system’s fault.

And unless we somehow manage to change the system, the country will continue to grow more and more disenchanted with Washington — and more and more cynical, and extremist, in our politics.

Maybe the occasional outsider, like Barack Obama, will get elected and be a reasonably successful president. But dangerous outsiders, like Donald Trump, are just as likely.

Not the best of options for the most powerful country in the world — as it faces an ever-competitive China whose undemocratic methods somehow result in surprisingly competent leaders.