A Chance to Restore Fairness and Civility

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JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

Now that the House has voted to make Donald Trump just the third American president to face an impeachment trial in the Senate, everyone involved needs to make sure the process is fair, comprehensive and dignified.

It won’t be easy.

Sadly, if events leading up to last week’s votes are any indication, the nation may be headed for more of the lowest-common-denominator political rhetoric that has been coming out of Washington since the Trump administration began.

Trump, understandably proud of the nation’s stock market gains and other economic conditions since he took office, has consistently said no one with his record deserves what he considers to be the presidential harassment he has received.

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His anger went into overdrive as the impeachment vote loomed, with a six-page letter to his favorite villain, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, teeming with his typical pugnacious, street-fighting tone. He dismissed any allegations against him, accusing the lower chamber of “an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power.” 

Abuse of power, of course, is one of two allegations approved by the House against the president, along with obstruction of Congress. Trump also claimed he was never given the chance to present a defense against what he considers simply an “election-nullification scheme,” even though the White House consistently refused to allow administration officials to appear before congressional questioners.

He summed up things this way:

“More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”

When the impeachment votes were complete, Pelosi said that they had been necessary to protect the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. If the House had failed to act, she said, “we would be derelict in our duty.” But she then undercut that principled stance by saying she may hold on to the impeachment articles before sending them along to the Senate, to try to force a fair trial procedure.

Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell countered that Pelosi’s threat showed the Democrats are “too afraid” to let the Senate trial begin, adding:

“Looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet.”

Longtime political operative David Axelrod may have best summed up the nation’s hyperpartisan political atmosphere when he tweeted:

“Well, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that this is a sad day for America. They just can’t agree on why!”

In last week’s debate leading up to the impeachment vote, the sharp partisan divide was clear between House members from neighboring local districts.

Republican Rep. Ann Wagner voted no, saying she “chose the Constitution over partisanship and cast my vote against the articles of impeachment. These impeachment articles do not come close to the constitutional standards of treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But Democrat Lacy Clay, enumerating what he said were the president’s offenses, voted with the majority. “You can defend Donald Trump, or you can defend the Constitution,” he said. “History will not permit you to do both.”

The political stalemate plays out among local senators as well. The national split is mirrored in the Missouri-Illinois Senate breakdown, with veteran Roy Blunt and newcomer Josh Hawley strongly in the president’s Republican corner, while Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin leads his party’s criticism of the president.

His Senate colleague, Tammy Duckworth, took a more measured approach, saying she would reserve judgment “and carry out my Constitutional duty of serving as an impartial juror.” That principled stance is more than McConnell is willing to take; he has said flatly that he would coordinate with the White House’s defense team, apparently willing to violate the oath he and other senators will take to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.”

If the political potshots continue, the often-expressed fear is that impeachment could become the norm when one party is in the White House and the other controls one or both houses of Congress. Everyone involved should see the dangers of undermining the Constitution in that way and work to avoid such a development.

Will the supercharged political atmosphere persist after the first of the year? Or can the year-end recess cool overheated passions and bring a calmer, more reasoned climate? Can John Roberts, who will preside over the Senate trial as chief justice of the Supreme Court, help bring a badly needed sense of civility to the proceedings?

Whether you feel the Senate should acquit Trump or make him the first president ever removed from office via impeachment, all Americans should hope for a trial that upholds the ideals and the vision of the Founding Fathers. In the long run, the system of government laid out by the Constitution is far more important than any one official or political party.

Here’s to hoping for a fair, dignified, civil impeachment trial. The world is watching.