Vengeance comes to the Capitol

January 17, 2021

Take a deep breath, count to ten, never make a decision out of anger, calmer heads must prevail.  There’s a reason those phrases are so well known.  They’re true.  And if we listen to them, we avoid making mistakes today, we’ll regret later.

On Wednesday, the United States House of Representatives was filled with anger on both sides of the political aisle, as too the hearts of the Americans they represent.  Just a week earlier those same representatives were huddling in hideaways as a mob invaded the Capitol and assaulted not just the brick and mortar but the very essence of this great American experiment:  the peaceful transfer of power via Constitutional process.

The anger, without question, is justified.  But the remedy being prescribed to assuage that anger? Not so much.

Another phrase to consider: “Just because one “can” do something, does not necessarily mean that one “should” do something.”

In her rush to take advantage of the anger of the moment and rush through yet another impeachment attempt against President Trump Speaker of the House Pelosi illustrates once again what little respect she has for the office she holds and the Constitution that grants it.

Impeachment was meant to be a solemn, deliberative process.  It was never, not during the Constitutional Convention that framed it nor at any time since, meant to be the equivalent of a parliamentary “no confidence” vote.

Without a doubt, President Trump deserves to be held to account for his actions but making a mockery of the Constitution in the process is a solution worse than the crime.

The Saturday after the attack, Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University wrote a constructive piece in The Hill.

It opens: “The author Franz Kafka once wrote, “My guiding principle is this. Guilt is never to be doubted.” Democrats suddenly appear close to adopting that standard into the Constitution as they prepare for a second impeachment of President Trump.”

Recalling the 1919 Supreme Court case of Eugene Debs a socialist who had spoken against the draft a year earlier and the Court’s decision dismissing his free speech rights on the theory his words had the “…reasonably probable effect” of “deterring people from supporting the war.” Turley lays the foundation of tomorrow’s danger to come from such a rush to punish today.

That in its current form “Democrats are now arguing something more extreme as the basis for impeachment” and that “Such a standard would allow for a type of vicarious impeachment that attributes conduct of third parties to any president for the purposes of removal. Democrats are pushing this dangerously vague standard while objecting to their own remarks given new meaning from critics.”

Citing Maxine Waters’ call for supporters to confront Republicans in restaurants, Ayanna Pressley “there needs to be unrest in the streets” in the middle of last summer’s violence, and even the current Vice President elect Kamala Harris encouraging that the “protesters should not let up.”  he notes that “They can legitimately argue their rhetoric was not meant to be a call for violence, but this standard is filled with subjectivity.”

In essence, Democrats might want to think twice about the new precedent they’re ramming through lest the future circle back and catch them in their own hypocrisy. 

But the most powerful part of the piece is the closing: 

“The damage caused by the rioters this week was enormous, however, it will pale in comparison to the damage from a new precedent of a snap impeachment for speech protected under the First Amendment. It is the very threat that the framers sought to avoid in crafting the impeachment standard. In a process of deliberative judgment, the reference to a snap impeachment is a contradiction. In this new system, guilt is not doubted, and innocence is not deliberated. This would do to the Constitution what the violent rioters did to the Capitol and leave it in tatters.” 

I personally believe that on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 the President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump did indeed engage in impeachable behavior, but it wasn’t his words, it was his action, or in this case inaction. Inaction being his dereliction of duty as Commander in Chief.

When he could have made a difference, when he could have stepped in with unequivocal “STOP, this is NOT acceptable. Disperse now, go home. This is not who we are.” Donald Trump, Commander in Chief did nothing.

Even as the calls for help were coming in, he just sat there, mesmerized by the live images on the screen. He had the power to step in and stop, but instead sat back and watched.  That is unforgivable.  And yes, absolutely, positively, impeachable.

But impeachable by historical Constitutional precedent, not an ad hoc political purge.

Publisher note:  A version of this column appears in the January 17, 2021 op/ed section of the Joplin Globe.

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