The journey from democracy to dictatorship involves many steps. Some are small, others are large, but few in the last 243 years of American history have had the potential to be as consequential as the Trump administration’s decision earlier this month to prevent Congress from obtaining documents or calling witnesses related to their ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Instead, President Trump and his enablers in the White House have made the astonishing argument that he is, simply put, above the law and that he, on his own determination, can violate his oath of office by refusing to submit to the clear language of the U.S. Constitution.
While Americans have argued since the nation’s founding about the meaning of some of the language in our founding document, when it comes to the matter of impeachment of the President, the language could not be clearer. Article I, Section 2.5 of the Constitution states: “The House of Representatives shall chuse (archaic) their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
That power is not circumscribed in any way, and certainly the President, of all people, is not authorized to determine when his or her impeachment is appropriate. That is a determination that is the sole province of the Congress. And for the past 243 years, whenever Congress has begun an impeachment inquiry, Presidents have submitted to the process that Congress has determined. In the case of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, Congress called administration officials to testify under oath. While Presidents have fought impeachment in the political sphere, every previous President subjected to the oversight of Congress has ultimately upheld their oath of office, however painful it might have been.
The Trump White House, in its eight-page letter to Congress, asserts that the process established by the House of Representatives is somehow unconstitutional, but the “arguments” have been derided as embarrassing, at best, by virtually every legal scholar in America.
In truth, the White House has made the decision to openly and aggressively obstruct an oversight mechanism that was explicitly authorized by the founding fathers in the Constitution.
For the Trump White House to purport that there is insufficient evidence upon which to base an impeachment investigation is dishonest on its face. We already know, because President Trump has acknowledged as much, that he made payments to porn stars to keep them from speaking out ahead of the 2016 presidential election, a violation, at minimum, of campaign finance laws. Special counsel Robert Mueller referred ten separate instances of what he saw as potential obstruction of justice regarding his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
We know that Trump has directed millions of dollars in government funds to his own golf courses and hotels, from which he profits directly.
And now, we have the uncontroverted allegation that President Trump used a purportedly congratulatory phone call to the new Ukrainian president to solicit his aid in digging up dirt on political opponent Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter. While the Trump White House denies it, the rough transcript released by the White House unambiguously confirms that Trump solicited political help from a foreign government, violating both his oath of office and campaign finance laws. We’ve since learned that two close political allies of Trump’s were arrested last week as they were fleeing the country after federal investigators charged them in a scheme to illegally funnel $340,000 in mostly Russian and Ukrainian money into one of Trump’s political action committees. Trump, who now claims he doesn’t know the two men, invited both to a private dinner at the White House last May as reward for their illegal donation. It appears there is no limit to the lies and the rot that surround our current president.
The question now is: Will the checks and balances put in place by our founding fathers hold off America’s descent into dictatorship? Does the Constitution still have relevance with a rogue president whose own supporters openly thrill at his defiance of our founding documents?
Trump argues that he is above the law, immune to prosecution or accountability, and that he can use the influence and funding of foreign powers in a desperate attempt to hold onto his office and the absolute power he argues comes with it.
Our country is, indeed, far from perfect. The wealthy and powerful have far too much influence over both parties in Washington and it has diminished the life experience of the vast majority of Americans for decades. But is the solution to destroy American democracy in the furtherance of the interests of the most corrupt individual and business organization that has ever infected the White House?
That’s the question that Trump’s supporters, enablers in the White House, and the U.S. Senate ultimately must answer. Their response will be telling.