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Senator Durbin’s Illiberal Suggestion

Sen. Dick Durbin (Larry Downing/Reuters)

We can add this, from Senator Dick Durbin, to the long list of norms that the president’s critics seem happy to shatter, providing that their target is Donald Trump:

The evidence suggests that Trump did what he’s been accused of doing in Ukraine. His call was not “perfect,” it was sordid. And there was indeed a “quid pro quo.” By doing what he did, he abused his office — or at least tried to. In my view, the debate now is solely over whether his conduct is impeachable.

But the question of whether Trump is innocent or guilty in no way affects whether the assumptions that undergird our beautiful American system are worth keeping intact. Durbin’s suggestion here is repugnant. In no useful liberal order are the accused expected to “exonerate” themselves, and nor should their refusal to provide witnesses be regarded as a sign of guilt. What “norms” does Durbin believe he is upholding by implying otherwise? What good does he think he’s doing to the culture by advancing such a reactionary line?

It is alarming just how frequently this presidency has prompted prominent figures to abandon basic liberal assumptions. Trump or no Trump, it remains that case that there is no such standard as “not exonerated“; that the invocation of the Fifth Amendment, or the acceptance of a plea deal, in no way suggests guilt; that perjury traps often ensnare innocent people who are telling the truth; and that presumption of innocence is not a clever trick to be wielded by partisans, but the foundation of our entire justice system. If Senator Durbin believes that Trump should be impeached, that’s fine. Before long, he will get a chance to vote for a conviction. In the meantime, it would be nice if he could do his part to keep some of our most important standards in one piece. People far less powerful than Donald Trump rely upon them.

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