“Our Founders … suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don’t think they suspected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.”
— Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi
It’s not every year we get a constitutional crisis for Christmas.
But here we are, with a lump of coal in the nation’s Christmas stocking. The Democratic-led House of Representatives has impeached Republican President Donald Trump. The Republican-led Senate gets to say if he’ll be fired.
Busy with our Christmas gifts and glitter, we nonetheless should focus on a different gift. It’s one of those homemade-from-scratch things, handcrafted by people who’d never done this kind of handiwork. There was no instruction manual, but these were the original can-do Americans, brimming with audacity and irritation. Tired of being ruled by others, they thought people could rule themselves.
Their gift is our covenant for ruling ourselves, the Constitution of the United States. Devised by mere mortals, we nonetheless regard it as sacred text.
The Founders thought hard about human nature and whether the recipients — that would be us — would find theirs a user-friendly gift. They were optimists but not naive. They saw how, in clumsy hands, their gift could fall apart. So they incorporated a self-repair mechanism, impeachment of a wayward president, to mend it.
No amount of Sugarplum Fairy dust can sugarcoat the fact that we’re in a crisis that threatens to undermine the heart of our democracy: Will we rule ourselves, or be ruled by a president with unchecked powers?
U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr — though he’s We the People’s attorney, not Trump’s — is nonetheless prominent among Republicans who lately have been peddling the un-American fiction that presidents have expansive, hitherto unrecognized executive powers that in many instances put them beyond reach of law.
Republicans summoned a surfeit of rage but a deficit of evidence to defend Trump against the charges of obstructing Congress and abusing his office for personal gain. They opted to rely on emotion, mimicking the strategy of Brett Kavanaugh, who cried his way onto the U.S. Supreme Court. They derided the impeachment process as a sham and Democrats as liars.
The president is constitutionally obliged not to impede impeachment proceedings. Yet he not only refused to provide documents but also ordered his staff not to testify. That led to the charge of obstructing Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty. Trump also refused to mount a defense during the House hearings but now claims he wasn’t allowed to defend himself. Poppycock.
Trump used his office — and nearly $400 million in taxpayer funds that Congress had appropriated for military aid to Ukraine — to try to force the Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival, Joe Biden, as a condition of giving Ukraine the money. Trump’s unmistakably transactional request to the Ukrainian president — “I would like you to do us a favor, though,” nailed that article of impeachment.
What’s wrong with trying to use taxpayer funds to force a foreign government to help defeat a political rival? This: presidents are not authorized by We the People to use our money for self-serving extortion schemes designed to undermine the integrity of our election process by inviting foreign meddling. But Trump, as usual when called to account, defiantly repeated his shameful behavior, publicly inviting the Chinese to help him with the election.
“President Trump … has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law,” the impeachment articles rightly state.
Many Democrats were arguing that the manifestly unfit Trump should be removed from office. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t having it.
Pelosi owes her job as speaker to the Democrats’ 2018 success in flipping Republican seats. She’s keenly aware that those seats are up for grabs in 2020 by Trump supporters. You could cynically argue that Pelosi’s unwillingness to impeach Trump was personal, meant to keep her own job as speaker of a Democratic House majority.
Nancy Pelosi is nobody’s fool. So why, then, would she abruptly reverse course and launch highly controversial impeachment proceedings, knowing she risks losing her job as speaker if, as a consequence of the impeachment, Democrats lose the majority?
Because with his Ukraine caper, Trump finally went a bridge too far. “He gave us no choice,” Pelosi said, steely-eyed about the dangers to our democracy if Trump were not impeached for his unconstitutional behavior.
Mark this well: Unlike Trump’s feckless Congressional Republican supporters who won’t confront Trump for fear they’ll lose their jobs, Pelosi knowingly not only put her own job on the line but her party’s control of the House of Representatives.
Why? To defend the Constitution. This, people, is how we define patriotism.
And what of the Senate, whose sworn constitutional duty is to act as impartial jury?
Senate Judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham says he wishes to dispense with witnesses because he “disdains” the process and his mind is made up. “I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror, here,” both he and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said.
McConnell goes even further to subvert our self-rule. He’s willingly surrendering the Senate’s constitutionally mandated independence to protect Trump. There will be “no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this,” McConnell admitted. “Everything I do during this I will be coordinating with White House counsel.”
Say again? Hello?
Solveig Torvik lives near Winthrop.