We are involved in a national civics lesson. But rather than engaging in judicious inquiry, we are instead tethered to hubris and certainty trotting down a road paved with arrogance.
It is much easier to have a predetermined outcome and view all relevant information from that perspective. The more difficult task, the one that is demanded of participants in American democracy, is to wait until the facts unveil themselves before rendering final verdict, even if it should run counter to our prevailing suppositions.
That’s incongruent in our current “microwave culture.” The warring factions on social media armed mostly with conjectures debate the efficacy of House impeachment hearings against President Trump with irreproachable certainty. But certainty in a democratic society is more often an intellectual vice. It is ignores nuance, eschews compromise and disregards our constructional framework, placing little value on self-reflection.
Based on what is presently known, is there a piece of incontrovertible incriminating evidence that warrants a hearing in the House in order for the Senate to determine whether the president should remain in office?
As much as Watergate is invoked as the obvious comparison to the latest crisis, the “smoking gun” tape, from June 23, 1972, six days after the Watergate break-in was not known until late July 1974. It was only after the contents of that tape were revealed that Richard Nixon lost his firewall of Republican support in the House and Senate.
Can the most fervent impeachment supporter at this point claim with any validity the existent of a smoking gun where President Trump is concerned? Therefore, a thoughtful inquiry represents the only path forward.
Conversely, it remains unsubstantiated that former Vice President Joe Biden is guilty of maleficence in his dealings with Ukraine, as the president and his surrogates have put forth.
Let’s assume momentarily that Biden is guilty of wrongdoing; should the president’s actions be ignored? If a bank robber has been apprehended, would it be imprudent to take any legal action until all prior crimes similar in scope were solved?
The notion of defending the president by attacking his opponent, relying on obfuscation, is hardly a new strategy. Bill Clinton and his cohorts used it in his defense, when he was caught in the crosshairs of impeachment.
Spoiler alert: What we believe or desire does not equate to facts.
There are serious charges facing the president, and if true, impeachment is the only option. Whether there are enough votes in the Senate to convict or whether it would unduly harm the political chances the eventual Democratic presidential nominee is inconsequential.
If the allegations against the president are true and no action is taken, the legislative branch would be an unindicted co-conspirator in the further erosion of our democratic norms.
Political calculus cannot enter the equation. Periodically, the populace in a democratic society is presented with challenges that test whether it truly believes what has been committed to paper. This could be one of those times.
The Constitution states, in Article 2 Section 4, that the president shall be removed from office for treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The latter word offers a definition often misunderstood in the public discourse.
When the Framers of the Constitution inserted “misdemeanor” into the text, as Brown University political science and law professor Corey Brettschneider stated at his recent visit to Wake Forest University, it did not mean a minor wrongdoing. It meant the official, in this case the president, had somehow abused the power of his office and was unfit to serve. It did not require a violation of the law.
But we’re nowhere near an agreed-upon smoking gun, let alone impeachment. But what this episode in democracy indicates is the enormous responsibility placed on the citizen. We can ill afford to view the matter simply through the restrictive lenses of “right vs. wrong” or “us vs. them.”
Politics in a democratic society is a complex enterprise requiring disagreement and compromise, held together by democratic guardrails. To opt for political considerations in lieu of the guardrails impairs democracy. It is to the detriment of society if only a small segment of the nation takes seriously the values embedded in American democracy.
The lowest common denominator is to simply choose a side that aligns with our thinking. It is to paradoxically place our particular beliefs over the nation’s long-held democratic traditions by arrogantly conflating our perspective with what’s best for the country.
How America responds to the present moment may determine if it is moving closer to the words of poet William Butler Yeats in “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart, for which the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”