Much has been made of Democrats cheapening the Constitution’s impeachment powers, how their crusade against President Donald Trump will ultimately render impeachment the American equivalent of a no-confidence vote in a parliamentary democracy.
In fact, the unwatchable spectacle of the last week on the floor of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body has inflicted something akin to the opposite. It may indeed now become easier to impeach a president for frivolous, purely politicized reasons in the future. But getting senators of the opposite party, and the public at large, to listen seriously and open-mindedly to the House’s case against a president who really is violating the Constitution or committing criminal acts is now likely to be much more difficult.
After this excruciating ordeal, the reflex will be to view an impeachment initiative as nothing more than an attempt at a political death blow – motivated by the effectiveness of the sitting president as ideological foe, and the unlikelihood of defeating him or her at the ballot box.
It’s believed that more than 80% of Americans watched at least some of the 1973 Watergate hearings, which led to President Richard Nixon resigning the next year rather than face all-but-certain removal in a Senate impeachment trial. The Trump Senate trial is apparently being viewed more like the Bill Clinton impeachment and trial in 1998-99, which boomeranged in Republicans’ faces.
“Fewer than one-third of Americans are paying very close attention to the Senate proceedings and just 15% say they have watched all or a lot of the live coverage of the trial,” a Pew poll found 20 years ago. “An overwhelming 76% say the Senate is mostly bickering.”
By comparison, of the more than 200 million adult Americans, 11 million watched coverage of the Trump trial over six channels on its first day last week – maybe 5% – with viewership downhill thereafter. Leading the pack in ratings was Fox News, suggesting that many of the 11 million who are interested in Trump’s impeachment oppose it.
The stats strongly indicate that the vast majority of Americans consider impeachment to be an ugly spectacle prone to misuse by Congress, not the solemn proceeding Democrats imagine they can use to rivet the public’s imagination with their supposed high-flying rhetoric.
Last month, a Quinnipiac poll of registered voters suggested that the more people hear the Democrats make their case for impeachment, the less they support it, with 51% opposing removing Trump from office, the first time since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened the impeachment inquiry in late September that a majority opposed the Democrats’ primary objective.
Insulting The Jury
House managers even made the incomprehensible miscalculation of insulting the senators collectively.
“The question is if the Senate will be complicit in the president’s crimes by covering them up,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat, said from the well of the Senate. “Any senator who votes against any relevant testimony shows that he and she are part of the cover-up.”
Senators, whatever their party, are notoriously proud of their exalted status – the closest thing to royalty the American republic possesses. For a troupe of congressmen to parade over to the other side of the Capitol into the senators’ hallowed surroundings is bad enough under the best circumstances; but for them then to accuse senators of being accomplices to impeachable offenses because they’re not fulfilling their responsibilities as impeachment jurors can’t help but infuriate members of the upper house. The very same shaky GOP senators the Democrats seek to win over – such as Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – were incensed with House Democrats over the accusations.
It was a gaffe of the first order that exposed one of the true purposes of this impeachment: to taint senators who vote to acquit in hopes of regaining a Democratic majority in the Senate this November.
Chief Justice John Roberts, presiding over the trial as the Constitution requires, was compelled by Nadler’s language, which included the throwing around of the word “lie,” to remind one and all to “remember where they are.”
Trump defense lawyer Patrick Philbin on Monday warned that the Senate cannot allow it to become the “new normal” for the House of Representatives to deprive a president of his due process rights in its inquiry proceedings, then demand that a Senate trial do the House’s investigating for it.
Philbin also cited Alexander Hamilton’s expectation in Federalist No. 65 of frivolous impeachments in America’s future, “the persecution of an intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives,” as that Framer put it. “That is exactly what this case presents,” Philbin argued.
Because of what House Democrats are doing in the Senate now, future presidents will be less afraid to misuse federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the FBI to hound their political enemies. They will be less afraid to commit perjury in hiding embarrassing information about themselves from the voters. Or to engage in other acts that truly are high crimes and misdemeanors.
Deterring a future Tricky Dicky or Slick Willie will be much more difficult as occupants of the highest office in the land realize that the public knows impeachment has become another partisan armament in the political arsenal, not an extraordinary remedy for behavior recognized as destructive to the nation by politicians across ideological and party lines – not the last resort safeguard the Framers designed it to be.
— Written by Thomas McArdle
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