We need a government that will take the business of the people seriously

13 mins read
US Capitol Building
Scrumshus [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What a pathetic display by Republican Senators.

The impeachment trial of Donald Trump has begun. America has watched as House managers have laid out a meticulously detailed case which clearly establishes that Trump both abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress over the events involving Ukraine. But they have also acknowledged that they do not have the complete story. Consequently they requested that the Senate help them obtain it.

As if on cue, more information has been revealed in the form of tapes released by Trump associates and now admissions made by Trump officials.

Yet here we are, literally begging for the Senate to allow the testimony of witnesses and production of documents so we can get to the truth about what happened.

This simple request should never have been necessary. The very idea that the Senate would conduct a trial without permitting the introduction of evidence is anathema to the entire U.S. system of justice. Every American should view it as completely unacceptable. Witnesses have testified in every impeachment trial ever held in America. They must be permitted here.

But even that is not enough. We must not let Senators perform only the most basic sham of a show trial prior to issuing a pre-determined “verdict.” The Senate cannot proceed with the bare minimum: hearing only the arguments from both sides, without live witness testimony, and then voting on acquittal. That would be unacceptable in any trial court, at any level, throughout the United States. Even a prosecution for a traffic infraction requires a municipality to produce at least one witness. Consider the absurdity of a proceeding with the magnitude of a presidential impeachment introducing less evidence than a trial for an illegal left turn.

The Senate must be held to a higher standard. Far higher.

Every Senator at this trial has taken two oaths. The first, when they took office, was that they would “support and defend the Constitution.”  Then, upon being sworn in as jurors at this trial, they swore to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution.” They must fulfill those promises.

The Constitution is an unyielding taskmaster. The gravity of any impeachment trial, much less one that considers removing a president from office, demands the rapt attention of the entire Senate. It demands that Senators leave their party affiliations at the door and act with one thought in mind: what is my duty to the laws of this country, and to its people. It demands that they take their oaths seriously and pursue any evidence, whether it implicates the president or supports his innocence. And it demands that they subpoena every witness or document, so long as they are relevant, nonduplicative and material. Because the point of an impeachment trial isn’t to win or leverage political advantage. The point is to determine if the president is a danger to the republic and, if he is, to remove him.

That is the only way to ensure fidelity to the Constitution. For if Senators betray their oaths and take the easy way out to achieve a cheap electoral victory, they do so at the peril of inflicting permanent damage to this country. Just try to imagine the carnage a future president could do to America if he cuts a deal with Vladimir Putin to sabotage our elections and, unlike Trump, is intelligent enough NOT to say “Russia, if you’re listening.” If caught, he would refuse to produce any information, following the Trump example. He would likely take advantage of the court system to delay the proceedings as much as possible. If impeached anyway, he would argue that the House should not be permitted to introduce new testimony or evidence, citing the precedent of the Trump case.

Should this Senate refuse to perform its duty, consider every future impeachment trial without…a trial. If the House bothered to impeach any president ever again.

House Managers must be permitted to call witnesses and subpoena documents. The House was unable to obtain this evidence specifically because Donald Trump would not produce it. That was the entire point of impeaching the president for obstructing Congress. If the Senate does nothing to secure these items, it not only allows Trump to profit from the very restraints he created, it also permits him to thumb his nose at any future attempts to conduct oversight on any of his actions.

If the president can defy Congress with impunity why would he ever comply with any Congressional request ever again? Indeed, why would ANY president comply with ANY Congressional inquiry ever again? And since the Department of Justice has determined that it will not prosecute a president while he is in office, and president Trump believes he can pardon himself, why should he comply with any court order when he can ignore it without consequence? Should Trump’s lawless actions go unchecked by the Senate, then every president will truly, and completely, be above the law.

Know what we call a head of state who does not have to comply with oversight? A king. Or an authoritarian. Or perhaps a dictator, despot or tyrant. By voting for a process which pointedly, at the outset, refused to include witnesses and documents, Mitch McConnell’s majority has led us to the brink of dissolving our democracy.

Worse, if the Senate does not pursue all pertinent information, they fail themselves, they fail the institution of Congress, they fail the Constitution, and they fail all American citizens. If we cannot trust our own government to make certain that our leaders will act in our country’s interests rather than their own, how can we trust that they will protect us? If the Senate does not obtain every bit of pertinent evidence to determine whether this president coerced Ukraine to become unwilling pawns in our internal politics – to their great detriment no less – why should any other nation ever support any American initiatives, knowing that the same could happen to them? What happens to American citizens if other countries won’t join with us to fight terrorism because they cannot trust us?

The Senate must pursue all the facts. Doggedly. Relentlessly. Unreservedly. Without hesitation. Regardless of where they may lead. The future of this nation requires no less.

Unfortunately, we know that they will not. Mitch McConnell stated long ago that he is coordinating the trial not with Democrats, or national security experts, or even the FBI Director, but with the president’s team. Think about that for a moment. The foreman of the jury is working hand-in-hand with the accused. If that weren’t bad enough, before the trial even began prominent Republicans like Lindsey Graham voiced that they had already reached their conclusion: the president is innocent. Can you imagine what would happen if you were in a jury pool and before even being selected you informed the judge that you rendered a verdict? If you can’t, try googling the phrase “contempt of court.” And of course, we know that Republicans, to this point, have denied every single request that they secure witnesses and documents. Every. Single. One.

Regardless, the trial has gone forward, and these “jurors” are all serving despite their clearly announced bias. Now, you might think that once proceedings actually began, Senators would pay close attention.  After all, this will be a defining moment in the history of this country, as well as the most important event in their political careers. And some have treated it as such. Others, like Rand Paul, have done crossword puzzles. Or, like Martha McSally, have attacked a reporter and fundraised off the notoriety gained from the exchange. Or, like Marsha Blackburn, have read a book. And bragged about it on Twitter. Senator Blackburn, in fact, especially distinguished herself as the absolute bottom of the Republican barrel by launching a scurrilous attack on Purple Heart recipient Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, simply because he had the temerity to testify before the House, and his videotaped testimony was used in the Senate.

A trial without any guarantee that there will be witnesses or documentary evidence. The jury aiding and abetting the defense. Individual jurors outright declaring that they will not be fair. Others who are not present, or openly defying their oaths to simply pay attention. And several who have stooped to irrelevant, unscrupulous attacks on the witnesses. Not to mention the outright lies being told by the president’s attorneys. And this is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world, performing the most crucial duty they will ever undertake on behalf of this nation?

If you didn’t fear for the future of the United States before, now might be a good time to start.

We need a government that will take the business of the people seriously. A good place to start would be to replace an obstructionist like Mitch McConnell with a patriot like Amy McGrath. Swap a simpering sycophant like Lindsey Graham with Jaime Harrison. Discard an unelected sinecure holder like Martha McSally with Mark Kelly. Otherwise this government of the people, this attempt to keep our republic, this grand experiment of democracy might finally, unquestionably, resolutely come to an ignoble end.

This might not be enough to save our country. We have a lot of work to do in order to repair the damage inflicted upon America by the Republicans these last few decades, like the attacks on voting rights, a woman’s right to choose and increasing gun violence. Plus, we have other serious issues to address, such as climate change, racism and economic inequality.

But getting rid of our most detrimental politicians is a pretty good place to start.


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