In 2016, I mentioned to some friends that I feared with either candidate, that there was a good chance we might see an impeachment process. It appears that my fears were warranted. Having lived through the preparations for impeachment after Watergate that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, I was saddened, because I realized that no matter the outcome, in our present climate, it was going to get messy, and perhaps ugly.
I have no interest in discussing whether impeachment proceedings are warranted or not with this president. What concerns me at this point is that our elected officials in both houses of Congress need to cease to see themselves as members of political parties and understand their roles in upholding the Constitution, the rule of law, and separation of powers, and the public good. The more that both House and Senate members (and Justice Roberts, who will preside in the Senate if the House passes articles of impeachment) can see the president as neither of their own party or the opposition party but as a citizen holding high office who, at the time of writing, may be accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the better.
I realize that in our present climate, that seems practically impossible. Yet given that climate, it is all the more urgent that leaders of both parties determine how to go forward where they act as a separate branch of government, and not as partisans for or against the president. Right now, the role of the house is akin to a Grand Jury, examining evidence to determine if charges that must be tried are warranted. When it comes to a trial in the Senate, the Senators become jurors. I’ve been a juror on two trials, one a murder trial. I had to approach this as “innocent until proven guilty” (and if I could not, to disclose this), and to be willing to find a defendant guilty, if the charge was proven beyond reasonable (not all) doubt.
What our system asks of ordinary citizens is to serve the interests of justice with as much impartiality as humanly possible. Now we need to ask our elected officials to do the same. Many of those in the Senate are lawyers. They understand well these responsibilities. What seems to me crucial is that those of the Democrat party should ask themselves if they, on hearing all the evidence, would vote any differently were the President of their own party. For the Republicans, they should ask themselves if they would vote any differently were the President not a Republican. I’ve written asking such of my own elected representatives.
I think at this point the American people do not believe party members of either House capable of acting in this fashion. [I will acknowledge that eventually the House will designate “managers” who will prosecute the charges or articles of impeachment, and that the President will designate those who will present his defense. Those individuals obviously have to be zealous advocates in an impeachment trial.] Most expect this to play out along partisan lines in both houses, merely reinforcing and deepening the existing political divides.
What concerns me in all this is the weakening of Congress as a separate branch of government, acting for the public good while seeking to uphold the constitution. Leadership in both houses need to think about the long game of our republic’s future and not the upcoming election. If majority and minority leadership in each house fail to come together, the result will only be the diminishment of their own power and the expansion of presidential power. While little may be legislated, the trend of the last several presidencies of the use of executive orders will increase.
We feared an imperial presidency in the time of Richard Nixon. Increasingly there are those who clamor for one now, seeing the weakness and perpetual conflict within our legislative branch. We have had a system where the president is answerable to the legislature and the courts. How the leadership of both parties act in the coming months, regardless the outcome, will determine whether this balance will hold and whether they will enjoy the increased or diminished confidence of the American people.
It seems to me a perilous time. Those who are people of prayer ought devote themselves to this. And one hopes that those who represent us also recognize the time we are in, and rise to greatness rather than retreat to “politics as usual.” While we have survived past crises, that does not mean we will this one. All I can do is hope. And pray.
[I know it is very tempting to argue one side or the other of these issues online. I believe these are matters for our elected officials. Any partisan comments on this post, either on this blog or on social media, will be taken down without comment. Use the time you would spend writing engaging your elected representatives.]