Is 233 years of constitutional rule in the United States of America about to come to an end? That’s a disturbing yet highly relevant question as the U.S. Senate seeks to decide how to move forward with an examination of articles of impeachment approved last month by the House of Representatives.
Underlying the Senate’s deliberations is the reality that the only thing that separates the United States from a Third World dictatorship is fealty to the words of our founders, penned back in 1787. While far from perfect, the U.S. Constitution has been the guiding light for our union for more than two centuries. Founded on the principle of the separation of powers, our constitution’s ability to prevent abuses by government and its officials is determined by a willingness by all three branches of government to provide a check on excesses by the other two branches. The founders believed that the three branches would zealously protect their prerogatives and power, but as we’ve seen, it appears such confidence may have been misplaced.
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated recently that he was actively coordinating a Senate trial at the behest of the White House and would not, in any way, serve as an impartial juror in a Senate proceeding, he was openly acknowledging that our constitutional system is foundering. When Senate leaders become mere functionaries for a White House that feels free to obstruct Congress in the midst of an impeachment proceeding and a President who willfully seeks the support of foreign leaders for his own political advantage, the concept of checks and balances is clearly on life support.
We are in unprecedented times. Never before in American history has a president so openly thwarted Congress in its efforts to fulfill a constitutional duty. From Presidents Andrew Johnson to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, every past president has made both records and top administration officials available as part of an impeachment proceeding. Failure to do so is clearly unconstitutional and was rightfully asserted as an impeachable offense by the House against President Trump. Every president subjected to this process has complained that impeachment proceedings were unfair or unwarranted, but none before the current president has ever so clearly defiled the words of our founding fathers and found a Senate so willing to shirk its own responsibilities.
We know some truths here, including that President Donald Trump used his office to pressure a foreign leader into investigating one of Trump’s political opponents. That was clear even before the release last week of emails that prove that President Trump ordered the hold on military aid to Ukraine and did so without informing Congress, yet another violation of federal law. We have also learned from recent criminal indictments that operatives associated with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani and Trump himself raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal foreign campaign contributions from individuals in Ukraine who were promised political influence over the American president for their contributions, much of which was directed to Trump’s primary political action committee. This is a degree of corruption that exceeds anything we’ve seen from a prior president. At least one of those operatives is now seeking to testify before Congress.
And yet we have a political party in control of the U.S. Senate that has now promised the American people a complete and total whitewash, in which not one single witness will be called to testify. If President Trump is an innocent man, as he unceasingly claims, why wouldn’t he want an actual trial with witnesses who could testify to his innocence under oath? Why wouldn’t he want to produce White House documents that attest to the purity of his intent? We all know the answer to these questions. President Trump is guilty as charged and has no defense other than a stone wall.
By helping Trump in his whitewash, the Senate leaders are violating their oaths of office and ensuring that President Trump will only be emboldened in his efforts to tilt the political playing field in his favor. If President Trump can use his office to obtain dirt on a domestic opponent, he can use his office to leverage foreign contributions to his campaign effort, or even ask President Putin to use his own operatives to interfere again, on Trump’s behalf, in the 2020 election. When an executive has no check on his or her power, abuse is inevitable, particularly when it involves an individual of such low character as Donald Trump. By shirking its constitutional duties, the U.S. Senate is knowingly putting America’s democracy at risk of ruin. If the Senate fails to change course and fulfill its obligations under the U.S. Constitution, the GOP will have sealed this country’s fate, all to protect their tax cuts for the rich and courts that favor corporate rule over the public good. That is an ignoble legacy, indeed.