JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: THE NATURE OF AMERICAN IMPEACHMENT – A POLITICAL ACT DESPITE BEING SET BY A RIGID CONSTITUTION – SOME OF THE CONSTITUTION’S MANY SHORTCOMINGS – ITS AUTHORS HAD LITTLE INSIGHT INTO THE COUNTRY’S FUTURE – HUGE UNANTICIPATED IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL PARTIES – CONSTITUTION OFTEN IGNORED BY WASHINGTON, ESPECIALLY WHERE RIGHTS ARE CONCERNED – HOW EMPIRE HAS DESTROYED LIMITS ON PRESIDENTIAL POWER – HOW AMERICA’S POLITICAL CULTURE OF EVERYONE HAVING THEIR OWN TRUTHS SUPPORTS POLITICAL IMPEACHMENT – AMERICA’S VIGOROUS WORK TOWARDS CREATING WORLD CHAOS   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

EXPANSION OF A COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE IN CBC NEWS

 

“Trump lauds U.S. economy at Davos as trial set to begin in Washington”

 

It cannot be stressed enough that American impeachment is largely a political act. I’ve written that before, but here is some background to support the claim.

Impeachment was not carefully designed by the Constitution’s authors. They offered only a sketchy outline, perhaps naively believing that the provision would never be required in the brave new world they thought they were creating.

It is in fact just one of many instances where the American Constitution has proved inadequate or outdated in a complex modern world. For it is a world unlike anything the authors could imagine, a point which goes to the difficulty of writing constitutions intended to last for centuries. The Constitution is amendable, but only with much difficulty, a deliberate “safety” feature, but not one well suited to a rapidly changing world.

Its inflexibility in general terms has however never really stopped determined American governments from doing most of the nasty things they want to do. What is the most important part of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, has been ignored or trampled countless times. At least in part that reflects the fact that it costs a lot of money to bring a case before the Supreme Court. That is another of the Constitution’s weaknesses, justice often depends on money.

But it is not just in matters of citizens’ rights that the Constitution is often effectively ignored. American Presidents, now virtually on their own, decide to commit acts of war (the assassination of a foreign leader, for example, or mass missile launches against a country presumed to have crossed some “red line”). Perhaps they briefly consult key members of Congress, but that’s not what the Constitution says you must do for acts of war.

And now, much in the fashion of Roman emperors, American Presidents use Executive Orders to do many of the things they want to do, behavior that is about as far as you can go from the Constitution’s rules. The Founders likely would have been horrified by the term, Executive Order. But, just as with acts of war, the Congress accommodates the President. Much of the “unconstitutional” behavior reflects the fact of America’s global empire and its often exigent needs. It simply is not how the country was designed to operate.

Of course, with a population of more than 330 million and growing, the concept of single set of judges established in Washington near the time of the first American census of 1790, to serve a population of 3.9 million, also has inherent problems. And the world has only grown more litigious and infinitely more complex.

The Founders hoped, perhaps, in a time closely following the Enlightenment with all its new political and scientific attitudes, to create something concise and fundamental in the Constitution – architecture’s Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” – with no extra baggage, but for various reasons, I believe they did not succeed. Constitutions don’t work quite the same way as general scientific principles. They govern dynamic and growing and changing societies – living things.

Where any rule or process is not precisely defined, an intensely political environment always works to shape and manipulate it. In Washington, everything becomes politicized, literally everything, right down to what in normal life would be dull process, such as budgeting. And so it is with impeachment.

There were no true political parties in early America, but there sure are now. They are gigantic and powerful corporations such as the Founders could not have imagined, taking in vast sums of money, and all of American political life revolves around them.

(Perhaps, more precisely put, that would be all of American political life, including the parties, revolves around money, but that gets us into a different topic, one I’ve discussed elsewhere, but it is again something which was not anticipated.)

It is no coincidence that all the impeachment trials have occurred in the modern era, the earliest being Andrew Johnson in 1868, a few years after the Civil War, a time of great partisanship and party loyalties.

Trump, Clinton, and Nixon (who resigned, under advice, rather than endure a vote) are all in the late modern era. More than one politician remarked that Clinton’s impeachment represented a wish by Republicans to get even over Nixon’s impeachment, an observation which again goes to impeachment’s political nature.

The Founders could not have imagined America’s set of relationships with the world two centuries after their work. That America would come to displace the Redcoats and Hessians who represented in American eyes a global tyranny called the British Parliament. What Trump is accused of having done, and I certainly believe he did, could not even have occurred in early America.

If Impeachment is largely political in nature, claims on all sides can be “right,” and it comes down to who has the votes. There is no precise body of law and only a small, generalized list of charges to which to refer. The Constitution offers as an impeachment “penal code” only the words, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” with the last part not even defined.

By the way, “all sides being right” rather nicely fits in with America’s prevailing political culture where all sides have their own truths, and there are no verities or universally accepted authorities. There is no truth, only sets of attitudes.

Trump’s just-developed line of defense has been summed up as “abuse of power is not impeachable.” That may even be legally and technically correct. But of course, for the rest of world, it is a ridiculous and dangerous-sounding proposition, especially when it concerns such a powerful country as America, yet some very prominent lawyers in Washington are saying it.

I do think that gives us a terrible insight into what a cloudcuckooland America has become. In the most powerful country in the world, abuse of power may not be considered impeachable.

It’s not just Trump, loud and extremely rude as he is. Others have enabled him, powerful Americans contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to his campaign war chest, which is filled to overflowing for the next election, and tens of millions of ordinary Americans voted for him. America just may be a ruder, more uncouth place than many appreciate.

It does seem the country is almost incapable of rational behavior anymore. The rule of law, that most fundamental building block of all civil society, is ignored by American leaders. Assassinations have become common practice, as have threats and aggressive wars and engineered coups. Sanctions, which are American laws which should apply only to Americans, are applied to all the world’s people, hurting tens of millions of innocents.

Constant lies are required to cover or attempt to explain away all of the criminal behavior. International trade and economic relationships are being destroyed by trying to put America first, ahead of all others. International treaties and agreements are being destroyed (the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Outer Space Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty and Strategic Arms Treaty with Russia are under threat) simply because America does not want to be bound by them. International organizations are being attacked or undermined – the UN (the US owes more than a billion dollars in back dues and often breaks its solemn treaty obligation to issue visas to leaders needing to come to New York), UNESCO (the US simply quit), the ICC (whose judges were openly threatened by a high American official), the WTO, the IJC, the OPCW, etc., etc.

International chaos is being actively promoted by Trump and much of the American political establishment. I only wish an impeachment conviction could halt or seriously impair those efforts, but I fear that it cannot.

Posted January 22, 2020 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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