It’s official. The President of the United States is now an unindicted co-conspirator. We all need to read that phrase again to let that simple fact sink in.
In the last few months, as dismay over the accumulating evidence documenting the incompetence and corruption of the Trump Administration turned to anger, there is only silence from the GOP leadership.
And we haven’t even fully examined the Russian collusion allegations yet.
Amid the deafening silence in the aftermath of the Cohen guilty plea and Manafort conviction, there is no audible sound coming from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor the reticent, soon-to-be retired Speaker and former boy wonder, Paul Ryan. The Republican leadership is backed by a chorus of mutes, with a few exceptions like the zany flip-floppers Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul, who have mastered the art of mumbling in the midst of reporters eager for some fragment of meaningful sound from the rising tide of swampland sewage that is today’s Republican Party.
In spite of this appalling spectacle of cowardice, Paul Krugman of The New York Times was uncharacteristically gentle on the feckless GOP leadership:
But my guess is that most Republican politicians are spineless rather than sinister — or, more accurately, sinister in their spinelessness. They’re not really ideologues so much as careerists, whose instinct is always to go along with the party line. And this instinct has drawn them ever deeper into complicity.
But, Dr. Krugman, give me another crack at this. At the very least, they’re spineless ideologues.
In reading a chunk of the commentariat’s prognostications this week, it seems that perhaps the best reaction came from Bret Stephens, Paul Krugman’s colleague at the Times, and a former editorial page editor and columnist for the right-leaning Wall Street Journal.
Unlike Krugman, who was a bit obtuse in what he had to say about the current state of the spineless but fall-in-lineness of the Republicans, Stephens was much more direct in critiquing his tribe:
To conservatives reading this column, ask yourselves the following questions:
If breaking the law (by lying under oath) to conceal an affair was impeachable, why is breaking the law (by violating campaign-finance laws) to conceal an affair not impeachable?
If “cheating the electoral system” (by means of a burglary) was impeachable, why is cheating the electoral system (by means of illicit hush money) not impeachable?
If cheating “our institutions” (by means of an “assault” in “every way” on the legal system) is impeachable, why is cheating those institutions (by means of nonstop presidential mendacity and relentless attacks on the Justice Department and the F.B.I.) not impeachable?
Pragmatists will rejoin that there’s no sense in advocating impeachment when the G.O.P. controls Congress. I’m sorry that so many congressional Republicans have lost their sense of moral principle and institutional self-respect, but that’s a reason to seek Democratic victories in the fall. The Constitution matters more than a tax cut. What the Constitution demands is the impeachment and removal from office of this lawless president.
In watching this spectacle which demonstrates the absence of moral courage, institutional self-respect, and that all-important spinal column, I was reminded of a book that I read in my freshman year of high school. That small book taught me a lot about our past history and the actions of a few men of the United States Senate who, in the face of adversity, demonstrated profound personal and political courage as well as a moral core which guided them to make difficult choices.
As we now contemplate the possibility that the current president has acted in ways that are antithetical to the rule of law, soiled the very office he holds, and is thus a potential candidate for impeachment by the House in the event of a Democratic victory in November, the message of John F. Kennedy’s 1957 classic, Profiles in Courage, comes to mind.
Senator Edmund Ross [From Wikipedia]
The one story in this book that is most applicable for today centered on the decision of a lonely figure, Republican Senator Edmund Ross of Kansas, not to vote to remove President Andrew Johnson from office after the House had impeached him for violating the Tenure of Office Act. This act was a measure designed to block Johnson’s removal of certain cabinet officers, including Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, without the permission of the Senate, which provides advice and consent in approving a president’s cabinet appointees.
Ross’s no vote meant that the president detested by the so-called Radical Republicans would remain in office till the end of his term. That single vote in May 1868 prevented the 2/3 majority that was needed to remove Johnson from office. Ross provided the difference to acquit, and Ulysses S. Grant was elected in November of that year to work with the majority Republicans on Reconstruction measures.
In Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy provided this quotation from Ross’s 1896 memoir:
I almost literally looked down into my open grave. Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.
Though latter-day historians continue to question the motives Ross had in voting for acquittal, his words must haunt Republicans today as a group of senators who were around twenty years earlier to pass judgment on Bill Clinton ponder the possibility that with their vote in a potential impeachment of this president, and in opposition to their political base, they also could be looking into their open graves.
Lindsey Graham, of course, is part of that group of senators who applied their selective judgment in 1999 in examining Bill Clinton’s fitness in office. The South Carolina Republican served at that time as a prosecutor in the House in advancing the impeachment case to the Senate for trial. Here is part of his address as a House prosecutor:
You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job (as president) in this constitutional republic if this body determines your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role…
Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.
Cleansing the office. Restoring honor and integrity. Graham’s sanctimonious words back then are in sharp contrast to his view of the present officeholder and the need for cleansing the sacred Oval Office and removing an individual without honor and sorely lacking integrity. Again, this view is apart from any consideration of possible collusion with a hostile nation and whether or not the Congress, if a floor debate would occur, might constitute such behavior as treason.
Lawrence O’Donnell, the MSNBC commentator who worked in the Senate and was an aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, asked Lindsey Graham this question.
With the silence of the Republican leadership piled on top of their hypocrisy about restoring honor and integrity, it is now time for citizen action. If We the People truly believe that the head of our government must be the model for honor and integrity, then we must contact the offices of these senators and tell them that we’ve had enough hypocrisy and cowardice from them to last a lifetime. Sadly, with John McCain’s recent passing, there is one less member of the Senate to contact in expressing our views.
If it is time for citizen action, it is also time for these senators to demonstrate their own honor and integrity and be willing to vote for impeachment if a new House, to be convened in January, might direct such action.
Based on what we already know about the character and fitness of Donald Trump, we thus appeal to these and other Members of the United States Senate who could serve as jurors in a future impeachment.
Some of these senators have the opportunity to restore any honor and integrity they might have remaining after acting as shills for the last eighteen months to an amoral, lawless president. We the People thus encourage them to think about their legacy and be remembered by manifesting the same kind of decisive action demonstrated exactly 150 years ago by Senator Edmund Ross in doing the right thing, placing country before party and becoming a latter-day profile in courage.
Yes, that request to demonstrate courage rather than the present cowardice asks for sacrifice as well. Senators, your country, and not your party, needs you in these perilous times. Expediency is only a short-term condition, but a person’s legacy resides in the ages.
Look down into your open grave, senators. Only by doing so will you have a life, an honorable life and a legacy that will outlast the nightmare of the present.