Reluctantly, we find ourselves discussing impeachment – again. In modern America, rather ominously, when factions line up against each other, this old English tool – embedded in the Constitution – is trotted out like an elixir for what ails us. It is not. It is an extreme measure, utterly inappropriate for this moment.
First, what ails us is not a gregarious, full-throated president wielding executive power with uncommon panache, or even a president quick to make politics personal. We have had those before, and likely will again. It is far deeper.
What ails us is a widening fissure in the body politic, one side believing in traditional American ideals – led by individual liberty, the other taken with centralizing power and remaking the world in their image, mandating an end of social ills as they see them.
Put differently, what ails us is a division between those who appreciate American history as a long, undulating process of free people pooling their talents, defending their nation and raising opportunity for all, and those who see American history as failed, in need of condemnation and remaking, if necessary by radical measures.
So, while impeachment grabs headlines, it is no more than the symptom of a disease we would rather not think about. And what is that disease? In short, the disease of short-sightedness, failing to teach recent generations that America is not just special, but unique.
America grew out of long-sightedness, sacrifice for the future, respect for those who came before us, persistent risk-taking, hope in the nation’s ideals, faith in a merciful God, as well as in ourselves and our fellow Americans.
For the long-sighted – hundreds of millions of deceased American citizens – the world was filled with uncertainty and injustice. America spelled opportunity and hope. They wanted a chance – to succeed as individuals. Given the chance, they did – individually and together.
They did not want handouts, free things, or a chance to give up and depend on others. They did not want the government to do for them what they could do for themselves or to tell them what they could and could not do, except as enhanced everyone’s opportunity to succeed.
Most of our ancestors, literally and figuratively, would be shocked that our government has run up a 23 trillion-dollar national debt, that we are not unified in defending the nation, protecting borders, honoring veterans, allowing free speech and free exercise of religion, not tending to the nation’s mental health. They would be shocked that we do not understand the history they forged for us, or burdens that inheritance imposes.
In short, America is not an accident. It is the product of long suffering, lessons learned the hard way, great failures, resilience and great success. It is about staying unified when foreign and domestic forces try to divide us, undermine individual liberty, inflame passions.
That brings us back to impeaching a president. This rash impeachment is not about an inconsequential call to a foreign leader, ginned into a complaint – assisted by a committee that now sits in judgement on that complaint.
It is not about non-existent obstruction of justice, in a probe that lasted three years and produced nothing – at enormous cost in treasure and stress to the American people.
It is not about public corruption, since understanding what led to that waste is an inquiry that must be conducted – and that the American people deserve to know.
This emotionally stoked, stumbling and outcome-determinative push for impeachment is about something smaller and bigger. Smaller – because it is about misusing the Constitution to unseat a duly-elected president, a quest for power to satisfy dark passions.
Larger – because this impeachment drive is about imposing the will of a craven few on America, using whatever pretense serves. Americans understand their country is divided, and that resolving differences is incumbent on them.
That said, they do not want to see the republic torn asunder by congressional hubris, self-adulating chairmen, dissembling and dishonest, focused by animus on unseating a president. Most are not interested in another show trial; they are exhausted. What they want is responsible leadership, a return to the long view.
Impeachment is not a magic elixir for what ails America. Every one of the founders would say so, and many did. Perhaps the most poignant warning came from James Madison, Father of our Constitution.
Said Madison, the Constitution was not meant to enhance but to contain Mankind’s tendency toward violent factions. He considered anything pulling in that direction a “dangerous vice.” Madison was clear. Impeachment had its place, for “incapacity, negligence or perfidy” – but was an extreme remedy. Misuse was dangerous.
Madison’s greater fear was that human passion would lead to misuse, distortion or destruction of the Republic. As he wrote in the Federalist Papers, “human passions” are the great threat, which has “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”
If politics is messy, impeachment is messier. Abuse of the Constitution is uglier and more dangerous than House Democrats realize. Impeachment will not fix what ails us; it is an extreme measure, utterly inappropriate for this moment. Madison knew it and most Americans do also.