Charles M. Blow: America begins the hard work of starting to defend and redeem itself
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., questions Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire,as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
It is truly wondrous and arresting to see the Constitution in action, to see its ultimate tool — impeachment — employed, to see this mechanism that the drafters of the document must have considered an 11th-hour alternative be called up out of necessity.
It is not a thing to be celebrated. It is a thing to be soberly considered. It is a sign that the character and behavior of the target — in this case the president — are being searched for deficiency (in this case already demonstrated) and that the American electorate has been betrayed.
This is a funeral; it is not festive.
Still, it is awe-inspiring and reaffirming to see politicians put what is right above that which might be risky, to stand on principal in an area consumed by political expediency.
This step, whatever may flow from it, reinforced the public’s faith that the rich and powerful can, too, be subject to the law, that fairness and justice are still principles of primacy in this land.
Donald Trump has demonstrated on multiple fronts a contempt for his office and his oath, as well as the rule of law and the Constitution itself.
He has operated in a way that betrays an internal sensibility that he can and will live outside the rules and above the law. But, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it, “No one is above the law.”
The inquiry Pelosi announced will seemingly not change, on a functional level, the investigation already underway in House committees. But on a constitutional and historical level it has supercharged the efforts to hold Trump accountable and move the effort to a higher plain.
As the Smithsonian magazine has pointed out about James Madison’s contributions to the debate over impeachment at the Constitutional Convention:
Madison argued that the Constitution needed a provision “for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the Chief Magistrate.” Waiting to vote him out of office in a general election wasn’t good enough. “He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation”— embezzlement — “or oppression,” Madison warned. “He might betray his trust to foreign powers.”
Madison’s concerns are so prescient it’s as if he’d had a premonition of Trump.
Even the inquiries now underway can only add to articles of impeachment. What we already know, what we have seen in plain sight and what Trump has openly admitted already form the basis for impeachment.
And this last incident, the president’s attempts to coerce the president of Ukraine to provide investigative help to damage a potential political opponent — Joe Biden — is so clear and brazen that Congress has no choice but to move for impeachment.
Trump was acting as if he were invincible; Congress has to remind him and the world that invincibility is not a principle that the law recognizes in this country. The president holds the highest political position, but the law holds the highest philosophical position.
And not only must the president be held accountable, but all of those around him, in the government and not, must also be held accountable for aiding and abetting any corruption and lawlessness.
Some people, including me, had come to worry that Trump might make a mockery of America’s ideals, that he would be allowed to get away with his abuses because of congressional timidity and hand wringing.
Some of that worry has now been relieved.
There is no way to know what we will come to know during this inquiry. There is no way to know whether the House will draw up articles of impeachment and vote to impeach (although I strongly believe that it is now almost irreversibly on that path). There is no way to know whether Mitch McConnell would even call a trial in the Senate, and if so, whether the Senate would convict and remove Trump (highly unlikely).
But I still contend that a vote for impeachment in the House alone is a historic chastisement, a scarlet letter that marks a presidency in memoriam.
If Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be impeached, then no president before and henceforth deserved or will deserve to be impeached.
This is a moment when the true character of this country and its leaders is being challenged, and in the result of how this plays out, that character will be laid bare.
I choose to see the beginning of this process as the country’s finally taking the first steps out of the darkness and toward the light.
By seeking to hold Trump accountable, America begins the hard work of starting to defend and redeem itself.