As the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump gets underway this week, there has been much discussion about the rules of the trial, with Republicans calling the evidence produced in the House investigation “flimsy,” and Democrats calling Trump the “founders’ worst nightmare.”
There has been extensive back-and-forth about the length of the trial; the number and length of days for arguments; about whether “high crimes and misdemeanors” refers to actual crimes; which witnesses should be called—or if witnesses can be called at all; which documents can be received or even if the evidence gathered during the hearings in the House—which, of course, are in the public record—can be heard by the Senators. There has been almost no conversation (granted, it is still early in the trial) about the merits of the actual case against the President.
This is absurd.
It is clear that the strategy of distraction, for which this administration is well-known, is once again operative. By diverting public attention away from substance and toward the machinations of process, we submerge the facts of the case under a tidal wave of hair-splitting procedural protocols. What a missed opportunity! This is a real-time civics lesson and despite the conventional wisdom that the outcome is a foregone conclusion, I would argue that there are surprising twists and turns yet to be experienced and serious, history-changing lessons to be learned.
This week marks the beginning of a once-in-a-generation occasion to witness American democracy at work under its most trying circumstances. We have the opportunity to defend our style of governance under its most demanding test short of civil war. What are the most astute intellectual arguments and the most effective practical actions we can muster in such a climate? How is patriotism defined? How are divided loyalties resolved? Instead, we are treated to relentless, short-sighted bickering about who is allowed to testify and at what time of day.
Impeachment is a real thing. And there are real issues at stake. Did the President’s actions in withholding $400 million dollars from an ally in a hot war with Russia for a political favor rise to the level of removal from office? Should we not build upon testimony offered in the House which is already in the public record and also find a mechanism for the President’s opposing argument to be given a full hearing? Is this not the best way for both individual Senators and the American public to hear both sides and then come to their own conclusions? Isn’t this what both sides covet? Then, what’s the problem?
I haven’t heard questions about the merits of the impeachment case or the President’s counter argument raised a whole lot this week. So, let’s hope the rhetoric changes and discussions in the media and at the kitchen table focus on principles, on character, on the substance of the case. Let’s hope (beyond hope?) that those managing this trial can re-direct our attention towards what really matters, not just for our own sake, but for our children, our children’s children and seven generations to come.