White House

Bring Impeachment into the Light

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C., October 17, 2019 (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
If Congress is to substitute its judgment for the electorate’s, let the people see why.

Republicans and Democrats, partisans of Donald Trump and those looking to impeach him, should speak with one voice about at least one thing: It is time for Nancy Pelosi to bring the impeachment process out of the shadows, out from behind closed doors, and into the light and air, such as it is, of the people’s house, where the people may oversee it.

The power and the responsibility in this matter are expressly Pelosi’s in her role as speaker of the House. If you doubt for a moment that this blessed republic has entered a penitential stage in its history, then behold the fulcrum of the U.S. government’s credibility and her wan, conniving aspect. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Because the legislative power is divided bicamerally, the three branches of government have four leaders. The two more capable of them, Chief Justice John Roberts and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are for the moment kept at the edges of the impeachment drama. If they have large roles to play, that will come in the third act.  That leaves the two less capable leaders, Pelosi and Trump, at its center. If moral authority were electricity, that duo couldn’t recharge an iPhone.

The rest of the motley cast hardly inspires trust or confidence. Adam Schiff? A cretin. Lindsey Graham? A sycophant entirely divested of credibility or self-respect.

Trust and confidence matter, not as abstractions but in practical ways. Impeaching the president and removing him from office is an act in which Congress substitutes its own judgment — and its own political preferences — for those of the electorate. This is a tricky thing in the case of President Trump, because the “revelations” about his petty, apple-stealing corruption (e.g., the Doral misadventure) and his refusal to disentangle private from public interest (e.g., the Ukraine misadventure) are not revelations at all.

As a candidate, Trump bragged about his talent for political corruption when it came to buying favors from politicians who could help his business. No one can be surprised that President “Lock Her Up!” is now willy-nilly threatening to arrest political antagonists on treason charges like some ridiculous little generalissimo. The virtues we Americans have long considered essential to republican government are, in his view, burdens for chumps — restraints from which he himself is liberated.

That’s who he is. And Americans elected him, anyway. Not Boris Badenov on Facebook — the American voter, acting through the ordinary American presidential-election process, with all its familiar eccentricities and imperfections.

The Democrats have been talking about impeaching Trump since before he was even sworn into office. That’s the Democrats’ own Ukrainian telephone call: Of course Trump took an interest in whether political corruption in Ukraine — and please don’t sell me the Saint Hunter Biden story — would benefit him and his party politically. I assume Barack Obama also was keenly aware that his administration’s investigation of the Trump campaign might help his party politically — that doesn’t render the investigation necessarily corrupt or baseless. Democrats are calculating every step of their impeachment campaign as though it were an ordinary electoral exercise — which is something very close to what it is. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is nothing else to it. The symmetries there are too obvious to belabor.

And so we are obliged to ask the question: Who in Washington has the moral authority, the political intelligence, and the patriotism to see the country through this episode in a way that fortifies our institutions rather than undermines them, that leaves the country better off rather than damaged, that builds trust instead of pissing it away?

Answer: Nobody.

Trust is not an option. That leaves us with the second-best option: surveillance.

And so Nancy Pelosi must end the secret hearings and closed-door depositions, and put the process, the politics, and the evidence before the public.

The Democrats have offered no plausible and persuasive rationale for holding these proceedings in secret and keeping the evidence and testimony behind closed doors. Given the character of the people in question, it is safe to assume that their reasons for doing so are corrupt and motivated by narrowly calculated political self-interest. If Trump is to be impeached for corruption, it must not happen through a process that is itself corrupt. If corruption must be corruptly rooted out, better to leave it in place and let the voters decide, relying on whatever mysterious criterion guides those baffling wonderments, for themselves.

This country and its institutions can bear only so much corruption. Nancy Pelosi has the opportunity to act like she believes that — or to add to the problem. Nothing good is likely to come from this in any case, but conducting these affairs in secret will corrode what little public confidence remains in the ability of Washington to actually see to the business of governing.

The time has come to act, Madame Speaker. Enough with the gutless calculation. The country needs leadership and, for our sins, you’re what we’ve got. Do your duty and open the people’s business in the people’s house to the people.

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