My most recent essay in this blog was two months ago, the unusual delay due in part to time spent on impeachment issues. Like a substantial number of you, I’ve read lengthy reports and watched many hours of impeachment arguments. There is reason to be concerned about America’s worrying descent toward authoritarianism. That is due, at least initially, to the president’s character and behavior, though then supported by Republican Senators.
Our Constitution was designed as the supreme owners’ manual for our new country, its philosophy painstakingly argued and its words carefully expressed. Of course, even perfect inscription of the founders’ wisdom into a written record would result in naught if actions of the electorate and their politicians are not judiciously disciplined by those words. Among other knotty issues, they dealt with the chief executive role, struggling with wanting a powerful presidency while simultaneously fearing it. Americans have been exposed in recent weeks to at least some parts of the founders’ solution to keep these competitive forces in balance. We’ve learned that political personalities and circumstances can make the Constitutional discipline difficult to maintain.
Every citizen should demand that an unhampered Constitutional balance of authority among executive, legislative, and judicial branches be maintained (the oft stated “checks and balances”), regardless of their representatives’ parties or their own. Thus, when President Trump acts as if he has absolute power (“the right to do whatever I want as president”) and the Senate consents to carte blanche approval of executive actions or plans, they are both challenging if not violating the Constitution. In the case of impeachment and Senate trial, if the Senate Majority Leader is more committed to the political link with the president, he is mocking the Constitution.
The Constitution assigns certain job responsibilities and authorities to the Senate and House that might—and sometimes must—thwart the president’s wishes. For example, the Senate’s accepting its Constitutional duties necessarily means from time to time that the Senate must take issue or even oppose the president. True, this makes it harder for Senators, but faithfully maintains the Constitution’s clarity of roles.
However, in the first years of the Constitution, political parties as we know them did not exist. It was possible to speak of the president’s relationship to the Senate or House as distinct political bodies. But as parties came to create semi-permanent components of the Senate and of the House, that clear distinction became complicated, in many instances making reference to the Senate’s or House’s position on an issue a two part (or more) matter, that is, designation of each party’s vote totals. But having parties created even further difficulties.
Consider a minority party in the Senate that is in the same party as the president. The minority party, of course, cannot speak as the Senate (though the majority party can). Although the Constitution establishes the relationship of Senate to president, a disclarity will have arisen if party alliances in practice extend to the relationship between president and Senate minority, thereby cluttering the link.
To make my point more actual than hypothetical, it is easier to visualize the reverse situation, that is, if the president is politically linked by party alliance to the Senate majority. Consider that a president has been impeached, thereby triggering a Senate obligation to render judgment whether the president should be vindicated or removed from office. That is the duty that fell to the U. S. Senate beginning last evening. Because of the current party attachment, Senate Majority Leader McConnell wasted no time announcing that his and his majority’s duty will intentionally not be fulfilled.
There are other situations in which this same Senate has failed to fulfill its role since President Trump began his term. “Babysitting” this president impeded its Constitutional and statutory duties. I’ve referred to a few instances in previous posts so I’ll not repeat them here. They illustrate that, while the Senate actually has its own job to do, it has been burdened by dealing with the president’s inadequacies, feeling protective of this nonperforming president of the Senate majority’s own party.
Such sycophancy has become commonplace for Republican senators and representatives since early 2017 due in part to the forceful and unscrupulous personality of President Trump. It may be tempting to pity Republican office holders who must balance daily between their personal convictions and the president’s threats. Still, surrendering to his guileful brand of pressure is a violation of senators’ and representatives’ oaths of office. The current Republican mixture of political intrigue, slippery explanations, and carrying the president’s water is tantamount to a distressing confirmation that despite a phrase Americans dearly love to chant, the American president is indeed above the law.
So are you saying that the FFs failed to anticipate a situation where the majority party in the Senate is the same party as the president and would therefore not be inclined to convict the President after being indicted by a House controlled by the opposing party? If so, what’s the fix? I’m guessing the great majority of Democrats believe Trump has essentially been convicted via impeachment by the House, when in fact he has only been charged. Conviction is left to the Senate, and that result is very likely acquittal. Ms. Pelosi is counting on the perception that Trump has already been found guilty and therefore no trial by the Senate is necessary. That’s not the way the FFs set it up in the Constitution. I agree it is not a fair situation, and it wouldn’t be fair either with a majority Democrat Senate and a Democrat president impeached by a Republican House. The obvious solution is a one-party political structure. How likely is that to happen? Talk about unrestrained authoritarian dictatorial rule! Pray for the nation to get through this without the “cold” civil war we have now turning hot, That could very well happen if some nut-case kills the President. Please, no matter how much one dislikes President Trump, for the good of the country, pray tor his safety.
Writing, arguing, and adopting the Constitution occurred before American political parties as we know them, so I can’t agree with you that Founders failed to address a problem that had not yet presented itself. I don’t know whether the majority of Democrats vs Republicans misconstrue the difference between impeachment and trial, though my guess is that ignorance is a bipartisan condition. I can’t read Pelosi’s mind and I suspect you can’t either (“she’s counting on the perception that…”). But I totally agree with you in two ways: First, there is no quick fix except one that requires flawed human beings to be fair about matters in which they have a personal or political interest, therefore maybe no fix at all. Second, the “cold war turning hot,” as you said, is the greatest danger (I assume that to mean slipping further into despotism and weakening the rule of law). On a personal note, as an atheist I’ve no inclination to “pray for [the president’s] safety,” but I can assure you I agree with your sentiment; assassination might well make matters far worse.
Wow! Another good post, John. Have a great Christmas with family and try to forget politics until next year!!
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