The current impeachment proceedings against President Trump demonstrate how prescient were the founders, and have offered one contemporary politician, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the chance to dabble in real eloquence.
Making his second impassioned jeremiad against the U.S. House’s slap-dash passage of articles of impeachment, McConnell sadly observed that the House Democrats had engaged in a "sprint into the most rushed, least fair, and least thorough impeachment inquiry in American history," and that this misconduct "has jeopardized the foundations of our system of government."
Commenting on U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unprecedented decision to hold onto the articles and not send them to the Senate so that a trial could begin, McConnell quoted Alexander Hamilton’s remarks in the "Federalist" that a "procrastinated determination of the charges" would, in McConnell’s words, "not be fair" to the president, and "would be dangerous for the country."
The Framers’ greatest fear was that the delicate balance of powers among the three branches would be upset, and that a corrupt faction would come to dominate the government. McConnell made clear his belief this had come to be the Democrats whom he said were "the intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives," that Hamilton "warned might abuse the impeachment power" for partisan gain.
McConnell decried the misguided nature of the Democrats’ hypocritical claim that some Senators, who, like McConnell himself, had clearly indicated their belief in the insubstantial nature of the impeachment charges, could not participate in a fair trial.
McConnell pointed out that Hamilton, in "Federalist 65," had said that impeachment was not simply a legal proceeding, but was a political one as well, calling for judgements, McConnell said, "about what the common good of our nation requires."
In a blistering indictment of the Democrats — who certainly did not shed their political partisanship in the trial of President Clinton on impeachment charges 20 years earlier— McConnell declared that senators did not need "condescending lectures on fairness from the House Democrats who just rushed through the most unfair impeachment in modern history . . . or lectures on impartiality from senators who happily pre-judged the case with President Clinton and simply change their standards to suit the political winds."
Once the United States Senate was regarded as the greatest parliamentary body on the planet, and one could sense an echo of that time, when McConnell trumpeted that "The Framers built the Senate to provide a check against the short-termism, the runaway passions, and the 'demon of faction' that Hamilton warned would 'extend his sceptre' over the House of Representatives 'at certain seasons.'"
The Senate exists, explained McConnell, "because the Founders wanted an institution that could stop momentary hysterias and partisan passions from damaging our Republic."
The Senate was uniquely able to take the long view, he stressed, because senators were capable of "looking past a single news cycle to see how overturning an election would reverberate for generations."
This was not only reassuring to those of us who thought that the art of rhetoric was dead in the U.S., but also to those of us who care about preserving the prerogatives of the presidency, about maintaining what the Framers called "energy in the executive," and those of us who share James Madison’s worry that the impeachment power not be used as a means of creating an all-powerful legislative branch that could dispense with a president at whim.
McConnell didn’t venture into the question of what sort of corruption the Mueller Investigation, the recent DOJ Inspector General’s Report, and the upcoming Durham prosecutions may reveal, or the real danger that President Trump poses to an entrenched bureaucracy that seeks to dispense with traditional constitutional checks and balances, and to rule in its own interests rather than those of the American people.
That, however, is what is actually at stake in this attempt to smear and weaken President Trump, possibly allowing reliable deep state denizens, like former Vice President Biden, to defeat him in 2020.
McConnell, with superb oratory, reminded his fellow senators and all Americans of the presidency's importance, of the venality of the House Democrats, and of the danger that the nation would face if it hobbled its executive.
The events of the past week, where President Trump ordered the removal of the threat to our armed forces on assignment in the Mideast posed by the Iranian terrorist-in-chief, Major General Qasem Soleimani, showed what energy in the executive could actually accomplish.
McConnell and Senate Republicans, and, indeed, at least some Senate Democrats, should soon demonstrate that the impeachment effort directed at this president, springing from what McConnell correctly labelled Trump Derangement Syndrome, poses a danger not only to the Constitution, but also to the security of our nation.
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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