by Ann Heitland
It’s impossible to overstate the significance of the impeachment hearing which will begin tomorrow. One signal is that all major networks have canceled their regular programming to televise the hearings, beginning at 8 a.m. Arizona time, Wednesday. For the Nixon impeachment, the networks rotated coverage so that only one of the “big three” was showing the witnesses at any one time. That, after all, was just about the cover-up of a burglary. (Also, it was a different kind of media market.) This is more. Trump and his enablers are a fundamental threat to our Constitutional democracy.
As much as we disagree with Trump’s policies — on Climate, DACA, FEMA, taxes, meat regulation — we’d be happy to take those issues to the voters in 2020 as we would with any normal President. Impeachment is something different because Trump is not normal. Trump is what the Founders feared — a man run amok in pursuit of his own interests, damaging our national security. As commentator Andrew Sullivan put it last week:
[This impeachment is] the endgame for Trump’s relentless assault on the institutions, norms, and practices of America’s … democracy…. It’s also a deeper reckoning. It’s about whether the legitimacy of our entire system can last much longer without this man being removed from office.Andrew Sullivan, NY Magazine, “This is no orginary impeachment.”
Sullivan “counts the ways” that Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our Constitution and democracy:
He Undermines the Foundation of American Government
Trump is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of an election. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters — undocumented aliens — perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.Sullivan, ibid.
This is not a joke. When the President of the United States says these things, he invites ordinary citizens to accept that “norms, institutions, and laws may be ignored, subverted, or replaced.”
Furthermore, he undermines confidence in the very foundation of our system of government: Voting. If our electoral system is permeated with fraud, why vote? But, it’s not. That’s been proven over and over.
Trump engages in a very successful system of propaganda — it worked for Goebbels and it works for Putin: “Play on the emotions; the bigger the lie, the better; lies should be repeated many times….Unfortunately, it works.” Maddow, Blowout, p.288.
He has repeatedly obstructed legal inquiries
He consistently described a perfectly defensible inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” demonizing Robert Mueller [and others]. [He refused to testify in the investigation and ordered others not to coorperate. When Mueller finished his report,] Trump then withheld release of the full report, while his pliant attorney general distorted its content and wrongly proclaimed that Trump had been entirely exonerated.
In the current Ukraine scandal… We barely blink anymore when a president refuses to cooperate in any way, demands his underlings refuse to testify and break the law by flouting subpoenas, threatens to out the first whistle-blower’s identity (in violation of the law), or assaults and tries to intimidate witnesses, like Colonel Alexander Vindman.Sullivan, ibid.
Trump has refused to release his tax returns like every other modern President. He ordered members and former members of the Executive Branch to refuse document requests and to refrain from testifying. Thankfully, some defied him.
All the while, Trump proclaims the Big Lie: “I am the most transparent President ever.” And his followers believe the lie. And the Republican Party — putting party over country — goes along with the Big Lie. We hope at least the latter will end as public hearings proceed.
Trump can defend himself in the current Ukraine scandal in two ways, and he is doing both.
First, he’s asserting an unprecedented, unfounded, and dangerous interpretation of the Constitution, saying Article 2 permits him to do “anything I want.” As Sullivan points out, this “represents a view of executive power that is the equivalent of a mob boss’s.” Or, Putin’s or any other authoritarian governing oligarchies.
This has no place in a democracy. It’s a radical lie about our Constitution that would make the Founders take up arms. Indeed, when King George took that view, they did, leading them to draft Article II in a way to make clear that Trump’s interpretation of their words is a despicable lie.
[Trump] believes in the kind of executive power the Founders designed the U.S. Constitution to prevent. It therefore did not occur to Trump that blackmailing a foreign country to investigate his political opponents is a classic abuse of power, because he is incapable of viewing his own interests and the interests of the United States as in any way distinct. Sullivan, ibid.
Whether the attempted bribery and blackmail of Ukraine’s president turns out to be in pursuit of foreign interference in the 2020 election or to obtain lucrative oil and gas contracts for his (and Rick Perry’s) donors — or both, the withholding of taxpayer funds, duly appropriated by Congress for the defense of an ally who is at war with Russia, is unconstitutional.
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High crimes and Misdemeanors.”U.S. Constitution, Article 2, Section 4.
Trump’s second line of defense is to enlist surrogates to lie for him. While imploring his rally audiences to “read the transcript,” he sends his troupe of pundits to spread false stories of what is in the record of his July call with Ukraine’s president. Our own Republican State Senator (LD-6) Sylvia Allen, citing Glenn Beck, posted on Facebook in the last few days:
We have become so used to these attacks on our constitutional order that we fail to be shocked by Trump’s insistence that a constitutional impeachment inquiry is a “coup.” By any measure, this is an extraordinary statement, and itself an impeachable offense as a form of “contempt for Congress.”
He lies and misleads the American public constantly, in an outright attempt to so confuse Americans that they forget or reject the concept of truth altogether. Lies are part of politics, but we have never before seen such a fire hose of often contradictory or inflammatory bald-faced lies from the Oval OfficeSullivan, ibld.
The “Deep State” Lie
Sullivan continues, “this is not just another kind of presidency; it is a rolling and potentially irreversible assault on the legitimacy of [our United States government].” Trump has never been in government; his view of government is that it’s all been bad before he got there. Civil servants and the military are there, in his view, to serve only him — not the Constitution, not American security, not the American people.
If the CIA finds something that could reflect poorly on him, then the CIA is part of the “deep state coup.” Ditto the FBI and the State Department. These are not old-fashioned battles with a bureaucracy over policy; that’s fine. They are assaults on the legitimacy of the bureaucracy, and the laws they are required to uphold. These are definitional impeachable offenses, and they are part and parcel of Trump’s abuse of power from the day he was elected.Sullivan, ibid.
Accomplices or Heroes
In the coming weeks, we shall see if Senators and Congressmen are accomplices or heroes in this tale. So far, the evidence is bleak. While 20 Republican Congressmen have announced they will not seek re-election rather than run on a ticket with Trump, few have spoken out. Trump openly bribes and threatens Senators who hint at opposition.
Senator Lindsey Graham, perhaps the most contemptible figure of the last couple of years, even says he will not read witness transcripts or follow the proceedings in the House or consider the evidence in a legal impeachment inquiry, because he regards the whole impeachment process as “BS” and a “sham.” This is a senator calling the constitutional right of the House of Representatives to impeach a president illegitimate.Sullivan, ibid. (boldface added)
Why Impeachment Is the Right Choice
Trump has opened up not a divide between right and left so much as a divide over whether the American system of government is legitimate or illegitimate. That is why Congress must impeach and remove rather than wait for the next election. As Sullivan writes:
I don’t want to defeat Trump in an election, because that would suggest that his assault on the truth, on the Constitution, and on the rule of law is just a set of policy decisions that we can, in time, reject. It creates a precedent for future presidents to assault the legitimacy of the American government, constrained only by their ability to win the next election. In fact, the only proper constitutional response to this abuse of executive power is impeachment.Sullivan, ibid.
Impeachment is a fearful choice. If the Senate fails to convict — if Republicans are not patriots, in other words — our country is in the gravest of danger. But for the House to hold back from impeachment because it fears that Republicans will not do their patriotic duty is also unpatriotic and dangerous. The Constitution demands it. The Founders anticipated this. Failing to proceed dishonors them.