Founders’ Wisdom

Alan Zendell, May 21, 2019

It’s fashionable, these days, to focus on what the Founders got wrong, and there’s plenty of fodder to feed that trend. Writing nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago, they couldn’t possibly have gotten everything right.

The most glaring example is the Electoral College. It made sense in the 1770’s when only white, male landowners could vote, and both transportation and communication were limited by the speed of a horse. To be fair, though, we can’t blame the winner-take-all thing on the Founders. That horror was a machination of the state legislatures.

Other glaring errors involve the Bill of Rights. The tortured wording of the Second Amendment, which was clearly intended to assure that citizens could be counted on to uphold order when militias were required, has allowed the unfortunate interpretation that individuals may own their own personal arsenals, unrestricted by local statute or common sense. And the First Amendment, which spells out which specific rights and freedoms Thomas Jefferson meant when he referred to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has a huge hole in it that we’re still fighting over today: the right to basic health care. But to be fair, no one imagined there would be much health care to be entitled to back then.

There’s no doubt, however, that the Founders got the most important things right. The two things that set our republic apart from the monarchy it divorced itself from are the separation of powers and the procedure for removing an unfit president.

The Constitution clearly defined three co-equal branches of government. The checks and balances we learned about in fifth grade were intended to assure that the executive (president) could never become a tyrant. They also recognized that circumstances might arise in which a president was found to have committed treason or other “high crimes and misdemeanors” serious enough to disqualify him from continuing in office.

We’re seeing the power of the Founders’ wisdom on both these points play out every day. It’s painful to watch, and many people take that as a sign that the system is broken, but they’re wrong. The process by which two entities as powerful as our Congress and our Executive Branch share power and balance each other is necessarily complex and laborious. Behemoths and battleships weren’t meant to turn on a dime, and neither can our government. If all that inertia against change results in argument and struggle, so be it. The other side of the coin is coup or revolution – there’s really nothing in between…

…which brings us to impeachment. It’s time we stopped all the irresponsible blather. Democrats wring their hands and pull their hair over the partisanship that makes impeachment nearly impossible. They rail about the unfairness of having to deal with a Republican majority in the Senate which has joined ranks to form a human shield around the president. Republicans ignore subpoenas and use every political and procedural trick to prevent Trump’s foes from gathering ammunition against him. The resulting anger and frustration are made worse by the juvenile tirades of the president.

With all that, the clear statements in the Mueller report that Trump likely committed acts that rise to the level of obstruction of justice, and the Justice Department’s opinion (that’s all it is) that a sitting president may not be indicted all seem to be a perfect storm driving us toward a constitutional crisis.

Ohmygod, the sky is falling, it’s the end of the republic! Except that it isn’t. This is the way the process is supposed to work. Removing a president from office shouldn’t be easy. If it were we’d soon be a banana republic. And as awful as it looks and smells, partisanship actually assures that the process works. A president should not be convicted of impeachable offenses unless the need to remove him or her is so clear that even his political allies agree.

We faced a very similar situation forty-five years ago. President Nixon was accused of obstructing justice in the Watergate investigation, and the country lived through crisis after crisis as a Republican controlled Senate staunchly defended him. I believed at the time, that the future of the United States was at stake. But when the smoking gun was found, and it was clear that the president had committed felonies, partisanship gave way to statesmanship. The process worked as the Founders intended, and it will this time.

The leaders of the Democratic Party understand this. That’s why Speaker Pelosi and her Committee chairs who are working hard to find evidence to prove Trump’s guilt or innocence avoid talking about impeachment. They know the process will work if they persist. In any case, 532 days from now the people will have an opportunity to decide if Trump should continue in office.

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