Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School

Not to decide is to decide. —  Harvey Cox

In a time of national upheaval and uncertainty,  a corrupt, illegitimate and immoral administration, whose operatives worked with a hostile foreign state to manipulate a presidential election to gain power, needs to be held accountable and possibly removed from power. But as we confront this nightmare situation, will it take a theologian like Harvey Cox to remind us about what needs to be done in removing a morally and ethically challenged Donald Trump from our nation’s leadership?.

Here are some particulars to consider in that decision-making process.

Will we decide not to decide that the House, where articles of impeachment must originate, will instead take a pass and let voters remove the president in the November 2020 elections?

Will we decide not to decide that impeachment is considered futile because the ethically challenged and conflicted Republican Party would never see twenty of its senators vote to convict and remove the corrupt conman who has been successful in championing more tax cuts for the very rich while convincing his base that he is their champion because he hates the people they also hate?

Will we decide not to decide that initiating the impeachment process would needlessly divide an already divided country and further distract from the important work that needs to be done in Congress?

Will we decide not to decide that impeachment and even removal from office won’t work because some believe there is an even more corrupt and corrosive heir-apparent in the person of Vice President Mike Pence?

Will we decide not to decide that, according to Trump supporters, a third impeachment proceeding in 45 years will have a corrosive effect on the country by allowing a determined minority, intent on indicting a president, to disrupt the normal functions of government?

No, it’s none of the above. But yes, we do have to decide.

Unlike the familiar sound of the Sunday newspaper, the Mueller Report landed with a resounding thud – not so much on the front porch of tens of millions of American homes, but in their otherwise cluttered, divided, and distracted minds. The very sound of that thud, heard and seen on millions of television and computer screens and felt in the minds of our friends and neighbors, is not going away anytime soon. Indeed, the sound and resulting impact of the Mueller Report, even though muffled a bit by redaction, is still resonating in the consciousness of the up-till-now silent majority.

With all of the near breathless reporting and analysis of the Mueller Report in the last several days, one thing has become clear. We cannot escape the inevitable.

Congress must do something.

What is enough to say in the aftermath of the Mueller Report is that Congress has a unique constitutional responsibility to act inasmuch as this body, not the executive, is mentioned in Article I to demonstrate its primary importance in providing both direction and oversight for our nation of laws in checking a corrupt, corrosive, and compromised executive.

The litany of attempts to obstruct the investigation into wrongdoing by this administration is spelled out clearly in the second part of the report, and the evidence is there for all to see that we have a president devoid of any moral core. Clearly, there is a responsibility for constitutional processes to start now, not later.

Although he doesn’t see any hope for Trump’s removal from office, former Labor Secretary and Stanford University Professor Robert Reich looks at it this way:

… Mueller’s report probably won’t move any of the 40 percent who have held tight to Trump regardless.

So how to reach the 11 percent or 12 percent who may decide the outcome?

Reveal his moral loathsomeness.

Democrats and progressives tend to shy away from morality, given how rightwing evangelicals have used it against abortion, contraceptives and equal marriage rights.

But that’s to ignore Americans’ deep sense of right and wrong. Character counts, and presidential character counts most of all.

Forget about the spin and the impassioned commentary. It is now abundantly clear that Donald Trump is morally unfit and unqualified to serve in the highest office in this country. He has besmirched the office by surrounding himself with security risks and those who are profoundly unfit and unqualified (Ryan Zinke, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, Kirstjen Nielsen, just to name a few) to hold positions of public trust. But that is only part of a much broader fabric of his destruction of national norms.

Collusion? Serial lying? Incompetence? Financial fraud? Violations of the emoluments clause? Maybe.

Then there is the matter of obstruction of justice.

When you put this evidence in place, it is now time for Americans to call for impeachment by the House. Just twenty short years ago, before thoughts of collusion with a hostile foreign power, financial fraud, and violations of the emoluments clause, Congress impeached a president for lying about a sexual relationship.

That was then.

In a recent interview, former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner put the matter squarely on the table for Democrats.

Impeachment is really not a political calculation right now. It is a moral imperative.

When you add to the equation warnings from some legal circles that the statute of limitations might play a role for prosecuting some of Trump’s alleged crimes, that makes the need for action even more imperative. Consider this statement:

But what if a president committed a federal crime, either before or during his first term? One problem prosecutors face is that the statute of limitations to bring charges against that sitting president — five years for many (but not all) federal crimes — could expire if that president is elected to a second term and serves the balance of the first term and all of the second term without committing any more offenses. (In the old days, that would not be too much to ask.)

So, if that president is re-elected, is there a way for prosecutors to avoid the statute of limitations problem in order to charge and convict that person once he becomes a former president, perhaps six years from now? As the 2020 presidential race heats up, and as the statute of limitation clock ticks, this is a question that’s likely to be asked more and more.

Full disclosure: just a week ago, I thought it was the safe and right thing to do for Democrats to do nothing and let the voters decide the issue seventeen months from now in the 2020 presidential election. That is, indeed, the safe call for many political types, who fear retribution by voters for seemingly targeting Trump. At present, that looks like Nancy Pelosi’s call, in concert with some of the House Democratic leadership. But is that the right call for the country? Can compromise be found between the political calculus and the moral imperative?

Forget about everything – yes everything else. What lesson does that send to a generation coming of age and their children, young people who have studied about the leadership – and moral authority – exercised by presidents like Washington, Lincoln, the two Roosevelts, and Truman?

Right now, I’m with Glenn Kirschner. There can be no political calculation at work when we look at the current incumbent, devoid of decency but full of deviancy. Impeachment is a moral imperative. It became so when millions of decent Americans read parts of the Mueller Report, unfiltered, and heard that thud.

So, with the greatest respect, Speaker Pelosi, we cannot give you a pass when the subject is about a moral imperative. Harvey Cox was right. We must dismiss the politicians, prognosticators, and pundits and instead take the advice of a theologian.

Yes, we must decide. The country is in crisis. Congress must assume its constitutional responsibility and act. Such action is no less than a moral imperative.