Today you will decide whether to advance articles of impeachment to the Senate. Sadly, we who will watch the debate on the House floor know what to expect. Republicans will be Republicans. Democrats will be Democrats. Only a handful of Members, if any, will break ranks with their party lines.
My generation grew up believing America was different from those we were taught to fear. We were not a one-party State of Hitler or Stalin which allowed no dissent. We did not pledge allegiance to a party, or so we thought; we and those who represent us owed our loyalty to the Constitution of a democratic republic.
In times of stress, I spend time alone in the pre-dawn stillness. In the days to come, I encourage you to begin each day with a copy of your Oath of Office, the Constitution, and the official seal of your office with the nation’s long-standing motto, E pluribus unum.
The motto is thought to point back to Cicero’s paraphrase of Pythagoras in De Officiis where he discusses essential bonds that keep together a family or a society. “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many (unus fiat ex pluribus), as Pythagoras wishes things to be in friendship.”
If today’s debate is a shouting match between two party scripts with no room for dissent, the essential bonds of friendship, mutual respect, and trust will tear even farther, and the Constitution you have sworn to preserve and protect will be well on its way to becoming a fiction. Let your conscience guide you to speak and act with wisdom and courage.
Whether the American constitutional republic survives the present crisis depends on us no less than it did when Thomas Paine challenged the American public at the beginning of the American experiment.
THE AMERICAN CRISIS: THOMAS PAINE
These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. – Common Sense.
Thomas Paine was the American Revolution journalist whose pamphlets by the title “Common Sense” supported independence from the British crown. Paine published those words on December 19, 1776 in Pennsylvania Journal. He spoke them to the American Continental Army one week later.
SHRINKING OR STANDING
The American crisis then was the survival of a dream. Would the American people stand up or would they be fair-weather patriots — summer soldiers and sunshine patriots?
In April 1775 the colonists had begun the rebellion against King George and all things royal, but the temptation to return to monarchical rule has never be far away. The result of the revolution was a democratic republic based on a non-monarchical constitution that divided the powers of government into three separate and equal branches — congressional, executive, and judicial. The U.S. Constitution was crafted to establish limits on executive authority. There would be no king in the new American democratic republic.
BEN FRANKLIN WARNING
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, – if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
BEN FRANKLIN, SPEECH TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION, JUNE 28, 1787.
“WHEN THE PEOPLE SHALL BECOME SO CORRUPTED”
Well-administered government is necessary for us. The success of the American experiment. i.e. a non-monarchical democratic republic, depended on an uncorrupted electorate and uncorrupted administration of the three equal branches under the new U.S. Constitution.
Government itself is not evil. Despotism is. Despotic government is the end product of a corrupted people incapable of the uncertain complexities of the separation of powers. The desire for a strong man in times of uncertainty like ours is only checked by the protections of the U.S. Constitution. A strong man is not King George. Franklin saw the elevation of a corrupt despot by a corrupted people above the equal powers of Congress and the judiciary as the nation’s greatest threat. The longing for the return of King George was the stuff of summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.
THE KNOT OF CRUELTY AND RECKLESSNESS
The knot in my stomach has a history. I remember the same knot while watching Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn until Joseph Welch spoke the lines that would stop McCarthy: “Until this moment . . . . I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. . . . . You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency? Have you no sense of decency left?”
The U.S. Senate later censured McCarthy for his reckless character assassinations of his fellow citizens whose left-of-center politics he suspected of communist sympathies or allegiances. McCarthy all but disappeared. Roy Cohn did not. Cohn went on to become the lawyer for media mogul Rupert Murdoch ; Mafia figures Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti;and real estate developer Donald Trump. “In 1986, a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court disbarred Cohn for unethical and unprofessional conduct, including misappropriation of clients’ funds, lying on a bar application, and pressuring a client to amend his will.” (Roy Cohn, Wikipedia)
Only an informed electorate that persistently demands uncorrupted government under the division of powers of the U.S. Constitution will save us from the despotic government a corrupted people deserve. This is a time that tries our souls. Those who stand now will be loved and thanked by their children and grandchildren.
Most deeply at stake in the decision regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation is the further erosion of public trust in the institutions on which this democratic republic was founded. The Supreme Court was the one institution intended to do its work high above the cock fights of special interest, prevailing winds, and partisanship.
Democratic republics are built on trust. The American people’s trust in the republic’s institutions was the bedrock on which the U.S. Constitution was framed and adopted. The genesis of American independence and sovereignty lay in a hope yet to be tested: whether the American experiment would meet the test of being a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The experiment would depend on the American people’s readiness to trust — and the trustworthiness of those institutions.
No institution of government was more important than the U.S. Supreme Court. While the legislative and executive branches are blown by the winds of the American electorate, the Supreme Court was to more objective, above the influence of partisan agendas and popular winds. The Supreme Court was the guardian of the Constitution, the final decision-maker of cases of that came to it from disputed cases in the lower courts.
In previous eras of the American republic, the justices of the Supreme Court worked behind the screen of public scrutiny. As America morphed into an entertainment culture, the justices’ personal lives and views came out from behind the screen of the legal holy of holies onto the stage of public scrutiny. They made speeches. They heard applause. They became either heros or villains. Like the Wizard of Oz, their humanity frailty came was eposed. A sacred hope — the trust in the Court to stand above the cockfights down the in the valley — died.
Tomorrow (Thursday) the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing will be at the top of the news. One of the three women who accuse Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault or abuse will be examined by an prosecuting attorney selected by the ruling party majority. The cameras will then turn to Judge Kavanaugh expected denial, the equivalent of a court rebuttal. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has scheduled a vote Friday morning.
One need not be a partisan to object to the process. One need only think of the bedrocks of the people’s trust in their government’s institutions and our perception of their trust-worthiness. The founders’ hope for the American experiment is at risk because of the very institutions established by the U.S. Constitution.