That was not a trial. It was a travesty. It was a treacherous farce, a flagrant cover-up that celebrated corruption and insulted the intelligence of all human beings capable of rational thought.
Fidget-spinning lawmakers, some of whom could not even be bothered to remain in the Senate chamber to listen to oral arguments in one of the most consequential debates of our time, insisted that there was nothing to see. The promise of our republic currently lies in shambles due to the insatiable power-hunger of judiciary stacking, deregulation loving, tax breaking, white supremacist winking Trumpian legislators (formerly known as Republicans). Liberty and justice for all has been replaced and embraced by win at all costs, even if that means inviting foreign powers to interfere in our free and fair elections.
Americans of conscience have watched aghast as Donald Trump has waged his relentless war on truth, deceiving the public about all things small and large, from the size of his idol worshiping crowds to the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. We have come to accept Trump’s lies as simply another day in America, and we watch incredulously as morally compromised sycophants cower in his presence, swallow his perversions, and enthusiastically participate in his campaign of disinformation. The synergistic effects of Fox News coupled with Trump’s malignant tweets have created the illusion of a parallel universe, a world driven by the existence of so-called “alternative facts.” Yet, we know that facts, by nature, are not malleable. We can choose to accept them or ignore them, but reality does not transform itself just because powerful people are willfully blind.
Sadly, Democrats have also given us cause to question assumptions, although, with respect to the pursuit of presidential justice, one can argue that Democrats’ overly confident claims stem from a place of hope and optimism rather than willful malfeasance. When Democratic leaders assure us that nobody is above the law - not even the president of the United States - it is tempting to fully believe them, even though rational minds are wise to question this idealistic declaration. We want so desperately for this to be true, to feel deeply in our bones that a transparently corrupt president can be formally held to task. Yet, as recent events painfully demonstrated, the idea of equal justice under the law, while aspirational, is deeply flawed. The impeachment debacle, as well as events that preceded it, proved that the president of the “free” world is accountable to no one.
During the Mueller investigation, Americans learned that the current understanding of a previously obscure 1973 Department of Justice memorandum dictates that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Despite the fact that the Special Counsel uncovered and described in great detail ten instances of Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice, it was not possible, we were told, to hold the president accountable through the usual means. Because the president conveniently sits upon a legally protected pedestal, impeachment is the only available remedy for his misbehavior, a remedy that Democrats chose not to pursue at the time. Trump, as a result, avoided any consequences for his actions.
When the Ukraine scandal unfolded and House leaders called for an impeachment inquiry, many Americans expected that the president’s behavior would finally be dissected under a legitimate legal lens. Although the odds of conviction and removal were admittedly slim, at least he would be subjected to a process that mirrored the conventions of a criminal trial. As we soon learned, these expectations of separate but equally robust proceedings were the stuff of fantasy.
Americans who were able to see beyond delusions of fairness realized from the very start that impeachment could never be a stand-in for criminal indictment. While politicians continued to proclaim that nobody is above the law, pundits and scholars reminded us that impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. A Senate in the clutches of Trump’s iron grip would never vote to convict this president, even though the case against him was overwhelming. In this extremely partisan climate, the facts of the case were, and have always been, irrelevant.
When we are brutally honest with ourselves, we can only conclude that our current system of justice is incompatible with the possibility of this president being held to account. It is tragic to consider the fact that our great nation, built upon the noble (but never equitably applied) principles of liberty and fairness for all, may simply be a republic in name only. “Justice” as it was dramatized on the impeachment stage, was outrageous political theater. It was the worst type of predetermined, producer-driven, manipulated (un)reality TV, a slick genre that is all too familiar to this president. Despite Democrats’ well-intentioned pronouncements to the contrary, impeachment ultimately showed us that Donald Trump is indeed above the law.
In spite of the inevitable outcome, the impeachment proceedings were necessary. Adam Schiff and the rest of the House Managers brilliantly and heroically outlined Trump’s misdeeds. The history books, should future Americans choose to read them, will forever document the painful truths that were meticulously laid bare. A massive tree fell in the American political forest, and all of us, including the fidgety senators who desperately wished to cover their eyes and ears so as not to witness the impact, were jolted by its thunderous crash. Reality’s reverberations will have far reaching after-shocks that will surely influence hearts, minds, and votes when Americans go to the (hopefully uncompromised) polls in November. Until then, we must console ourselves with the conviction that the longer trajectory of history’s moral arc will one day bend toward justice, propelled by unflinching truth that will persist even in the face of relentless propaganda and corrupt, self-interested obfuscation.
I am no lawyer or Constitutional scholar. I am an engaged and enraged citizen who fears that the zenith of American democracy may well be behind us. Moving forward, I can only suggest that we rectify the failings of our justice system by formally crafting rules for presidential impeachments that will ensure that future proceedings mirror the framework of “real” trials. Codifying the expectation that any impeachment trial must include the presentation of relevant documents and witnesses is a logical place to start. Additionally, it seems that the time is ripe for revisiting our current understanding of the 1973 DOJ memo that has so frustratingly interfered with our ability to pursue presidential justice through “normal” channels. I will leave the details of these proposed fixes to the experts. However, it is abundantly clear that the survival of our republic demands that we grapple with these existential threats to freedom.
Indeed, we have a republic if we can keep it. Unless and until the day arrives when participants in our great American experiment choose to embrace the immutability of facts and the universal application of the rule of law, I fear we will continue to fake it until we break it.