The U.S. House of Representatives has now, by a purely partisan vote, moved to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. The vote sets forth the procedures to follow, and while it allows Republicans to propose witnesses and certain other purportedly due process protections, they are all subject to the approval of Democrats, particularly Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chair of the House’s Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Schiff’s track record of fabrication hardly inspires confidence in his rectitude.
This is a fundamental departure from prior precedent, and while the House clearly has power to make up its own rules, what is happening is still a travesty, a betrayal of what constitutional government is supposed to be all about.
Some have seen in the majority’s riding roughshod over the minority the potential for a virtual or even an actual Civil War. The fear is overblown at present, yet still but nonetheless and however (as essayist Joseph Epstein once put it) to indicate such contempt for the views of the 63 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump is not healthy for the polity.
We are now clearly at precisely the point the framers never wished us to reach. In "Federalist 10," James Madison’s great rumination on basic political principles, he states his fear that the government of the United States would succumb to faction — to a group of self-interested individuals whose aims were not in the public interest, and who might use the power of the government simply to advance their private aims or schemes.
Madison thought by establishing a republic of great geographical reach factions would cancel each other out, and the public interest would stand a better chance of being furthered. He and the other Framers, of course, did not foresee the rise of national political parties where faction (in the form of a rabid party base) could, in fact, overcome restraint and virtue and result in what we have now.
Sensible observers can understand that what U.S. House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and others seek to do is simply attach the impeachment asterisk to the Trump name, in the hope that independents and perhaps even some Republicans will think where there is smoke there must be fire and thus Mr. Trump should be voted out of office in 2020.
The Republicans in the Senate know this is a blatantly political exercise and will vote to acquit a president who has been implementing what they believe to be policies in the national interest, policies Republicans have advocated for generations, but House Democrats still cling to the hope that Mr. Trump will be fatally damaged.
"Politics ain’t beanbag," as Finley Peter Dunne's fictional Mr. Dooley used to say, but the fabric of the Republic is fragile, and Democrats are coming close to rending it in a dangerous manner.
Politics, in America, has always been a theater for exaggeration, obfuscation, and the telling of untruths, but never more than now. When Nancy Pelosi claims that the current impeachment proceedings are simply a means of ensuring that the president adheres to the rule of law, Pinocchio must watch her nose grow with awe.
If there is any truth to the current charges being bandied against Mr. Trump, he sought to enlist officials in the Ukraine to help expose the corruption of his potential political foe, Joe Biden and his family, he asked those officials to cooperate in an investigation of irregularities in the 2016 presidential election, and he may have implied (though it was not express) that future American financial support might depend on continued cooperation.
In any event, no financial aid was permanently withheld from the Ukraine, and, at this point, we do not even know whether the 2016 matters and the Bidens were ever pursued by Ukraine officials.
To seek to remove a president on this ground is simply preposterous, given that reciprocal relationships are precisely what foreign affairs have always been about, given that corruption is the scourge of republics, and given that the Constitution vests the president with complete discretion in these matters.
The Framers, naively as it now turns out, believed that they had put in place a structure which could turn political sentiment into channels that would serve a broad public interest. Even they realized however, that for the republic to survive virtue in our politicians and our public would be required. That virtue demands that there be bipartisan support for major measures.
Of late, Democrats have forgotten this supra-constitutional political truth.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was rammed through Congress without a single Republican vote, and has proved to be singularly divisive.
Impeachment is headed in the same direction.
Democrats are now a clear and present danger to our Constitution, and it's up to the Republicans and the American people to set things right.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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