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In the End, Trump Left Pelosi No Choice on Impeachment

If we must impeach, we must target the fundamental nature of the crimes, not the criminal.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Ima

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to the media at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 

Readers of my columns know there's very little I agree with Nancy Pelosi on.  But I thought her reluctance to impeach Trump was warranted. It will inflame his base, the Senate is unlikely to act on the House's findings, and it could be dismissed as a partisan attack by those who are tired of partisan sniping.

I had another concern that I'm sure Pelosi didn't share. It could also hinder progressives from getting their message out in a way that bypasses the neoliberal establishment's attempts to discredit it.  And Democrat's best hope for defeating Trump is to run a campaign centered on progressive values, conventional wisdom about centrism notwithstanding. But there won't be a lot of oxygen available for anything other than impeachment, once the process gets rolling.

In the end, Trump left Pelosi no choice. He was systematically undermining the institutions and norms that give power and authority to the mere words written on parchment more than two centuries ago. The documents and the words have no power when the people aren't vigilant and the leaders don't accept them as binding.  Indeed, Russia and China have constitutions that confer freedom and power to the people, while constraining those of the government—but because there's no real tradition of freedom and no institutions vested with authority, they are about as binding as an advertising jingle.

The Mueller Report revealed impeachable offenses, but they could be—and were—glossed over in the interests of political calculus.

But Trump’s war on Congress’s oversight authority, his active undermining of a free press, his attempts to discredit the intelligence community, DOJ, and the rule of law in general, as well as his willingness to blatantly violate the emoluments clause have, cumulatively, threatened the things which animate our constitution, and assure our freedoms. If Trump were left unchecked, our system of government would be forever compromised; our freedoms no more real than those afforded to citizens of China and Russia, our revered texts reduced to empty words.

In short, Trump was stripping a system based on checks and balances of any checks or any balance.

But if we must impeach, we must target the fundamental nature of the crimes, not the criminal.  We must leaven our prosecution of Trump, with a robust defense of freedom. Indeed, if Democrats are wise, they can turn this into a much needed national civics lesson, and restore a real balance to our political discourse—one based on values and principles, not personalities; one grounded in our common heritage, not our individual preferences.  We might even restore the Enlightenment ideas of our founders to center stage.

Pelosi's opening line in the impeachment process should borrow from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address—something like this would be appropriate:

Two hundred and forty-three years ago, our founders embarked on a bold experiment; to create a government of the people, by the people, for the people.  It has been tested many times in the intervening years.  Just 11 years after our nation was founded, the Union was unravelling, and our founders drafted the Constitution, which was ratified in 1788. Less than a century later, our Republic was again threatened when the issue of  slavery threatened to tear it apart. But it has withstood those tests and more and today, our Constitution is the oldest written governing document still in use. If we trace the arc of our governance, we see a steady march toward greater freedom and a more inclusive society.

Until recently.

Today, the Constitution is once again under attack. The carefully wrought systems of checks and balances are under assault by a man who has nothing but disdain for the rule of law and the architecture of our great freedoms. He has …

And here she could list his crimes but couch them in the broader context of how they threaten our system of government and our freedom.

If Democrats are astute, they can use impeachment to highlight not only Trump's crimes, but the Republicans' myriad attacks on personal freedom—including their extreme  gerrymandering, their various strategies for voter suppression, caging voters, etc.—all the things which run directly counter to the Enlightenment principles this nation was founded upon.

Of course, to be taken seriously that would mean Democrats would have to be willing to give up their neoliberal obeisance to the ultra-rich and corporations and embrace progressivism, so it's not likely we'll see it.

But it is not only the politically smart thing to do, it's the right thing. 

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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