McSweeney’s: “I Don’t Know WHO to Believe In This Impeachment Hearing”

nunes-castor-jordan11132019This is so true.  A taste:

This impeachment is so confusing. Both sides are making contradictory claims and it’s almost impossible to know who to trust.

On the one hand, you have George Kent, a career Foreign Service officer whose entire family served in the armed forces, including an uncle who was at Pearl Harbor and survived the Bataan Death March, and on the other hand, you have a bone spurs draft dodger whose dad got arrested at a KKK riot.

There’s this fellow Bill Taylor who served as a Captain and company commander in Vietnam and who was awarded a Bronze Star, but then again, Donald Trump’s first wife Ivana and numerous other women have said that he sexually assaulted them.

If only American politics weren’t so partisan, I might be able to make sense of it all, but I can’t.

At the hearing, I saw two serious, professional men who both served under Republican and Democrat administrations. Yet just last week, President Trump was ordered to pay two million dollars for using charity funds to pay off his business debts and promote himself. How can a voter like me be expected to know who is more credible?

These men testified under oath that the president tried to withhold military aid to a crucial ally unless the Ukranian president made a phony and defamatory speech about Joe Biden, and I admit that does sound slightly damning. At the same time, there’s a white supremacist working closely with Donald Trump who orchestrated the immigration policy which separated thousands of children, including babies, from their parents. Politics are so complicated!

What sounds more believable? That career diplomats with everything to lose would make up a story implicating the most powerful man in America? Or that the president’s butt-dialling, criminal-loving lawyer was involved in something nefarious? I wish this would be easier!

I’m no political scientist, but it seems to me that a man who has told 13,435 lies and has equated Nazis with people protesting Nazis, and who publicly stated he’d date his own daughter, and who tried and failed to buy Greenland is at least as honest as the many people, both Republican and Democrat, who have testified against him in this impeachment hearing.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelicals Weigh-In on Today’s First Day of Impeachment Hearings

Trump court evangelicals

Court evangelicals in the court

Several of the court evangelicals had things to say today (and in the last day or two) about impeachment.

Here is Franklin Graham:

This Paula White quote tells it all.  It is, in many ways, the essence of court evangelicalism and Trump evangelicalism generally.

Here is Ralph Reed:

Why Have So Many U.S. Senators Been Silent on Impeachment?

Lindsey

Perhaps Lindsey Graham should think about keeping his mouth shut on impeachment

While people like Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senator who seems to have lost his moral compass after the death of John McCain, runs his mouth off about impeachment, other Senators remain quiet.  Some have even taken a “vow of silence.”  As Texas A&M law professor Lynne Rambo notes at The Conversation, such a vow of silence is appropriate.  In an impeachment trial, the Senate serves as the jury.  And who wants members of jury going public with their thoughts about the trial?  Here is a taste of her piece:

 

Several Republican senators have taken a “vow of silence” on the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

Maine Senator Susan Collins has described her position this way: “I am very likely to be a juror so to make a predetermined decision on whether to convict a president of the United States does not fulfill one’s constitutional responsibilities.”

From a purely political standpoint, the senators’ choice is beneficial for both parties. The senators cannot find it easy to speak approvingly of the president’s opportunistic conduct with foreign countries, so silence is probably the most graceful position for the Republican Party.

The silence is also helpful from the Democratic Party’s perspective. Democrats would no doubt prefer that the senators just abandon Trump immediately, but that seems unlikely to happen. The silence at least preserves the possibility that they will convict Trump if and when the time comes.

That said, there is nothing requiring the senators to remain silent on the issues. No written law or rule instructs senators to take that approach. The Senate’s Rules on Impeachment Trials do not address pretrial conduct at all.

The senators’ choice seems to stem instead from a decision to treat the impeachment proceeding much like a judicial trial. As a professor of Constitutional law, I find that analogy quite apt.

Read the entire piece here.

Is There Such a Thing as an Ordinary Impeachment?

Trump on mall

Andrew Sullivan’s recent piece at New York Magazine is titled “This is No Ordinary Impeachment.”  I actually like the piece, but I wonder if there was ever an “ordinary” impeachment in American history. After all, it has only happened twice (almost three times if you consider Nixon).

While you are thinking about that, here is a taste of Sullivan’s piece:

This is not just an impeachment. It’s the endgame for Trump’s relentless assault on the institutions, norms, and practices of America’s liberal democracy for the past three years. It’s also a deeper reckoning. It’s about whether the legitimacy of our entire system can last much longer without this man being removed from office.

I’m talking about what political scientists call “regime cleavage” — a decline in democratic life so severe the country’s very institutions could lose legitimacy as a result of it. It is described by one political scientist as follows: “a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself — in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions, and laws may be ignored, subverted, or replaced.” A full-on regime cleavage is, indeed, an extinction-level event for our liberal democratic system. And it is one precipitated by the man who is supposed to be the guardian of that system, the president.

Let us count the ways in which Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our democracy. He is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of the vote. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters — undocumented aliens — perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.

Read the rest here.

Federalist 65

Context

To the People of the State of New York:

THE remaining powers which the plan of the convention allots to the Senate, in a distinct capacity, are comprised in their participation with the executive in the appointment to offices, and in their judicial character as a court for the trial of impeachments. As in the business of appointments the executive will be the principal agent, the provisions relating to it will most properly be discussed in the examination of that department. We will, therefore, conclude this head with a view of the judicial character of the Senate.

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.

The delicacy and magnitude of a trust which so deeply concerns the political reputation and existence of every man engaged in the administration of public affairs, speak for themselves. The difficulty of placing it rightly, in a government resting entirely on the basis of periodical elections, will as readily be perceived, when it is considered that the most conspicuous characters in it will, from that circumstance, be too often the leaders or the tools of the most cunning or the most numerous faction, and on this account, can hardly be expected to possess the requisite neutrality towards those whose conduct may be the subject of scrutiny.

The convention, it appears, thought the Senate the most fit depositary of this important trust. Those who can best discern the intrinsic difficulty of the thing, will be least hasty in condemning that opinion, and will be most inclined to allow due weight to the arguments which may be supposed to have produced it.

What, it may be asked, is the true spirit of the institution itself? Is it not designed as a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men? If this be the design of it, who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves? It is not disputed that the power of originating the inquiry, or, in other words, of preferring the impeachment, ought to be lodged in the hands of one branch of the legislative body. Will not the reasons which indicate the propriety of this arrangement strongly plead for an admission of the other branch of that body to a share of the inquiry? The model from which the idea of this institution has been borrowed, pointed out that course to the convention. In Great Britain it is the province of the House of Commons to prefer the impeachment, and of the House of Lords to decide upon it. Several of the State constitutions have followed the example. As well the latter, as the former, seem to have regarded the practice of impeachments as a bridle in the hands of the legislative body upon the executive servants of the government. Is not this the true light in which it ought to be regarded?

Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified, or sufficiently independent? What other body would be likely to feel CONFIDENCE ENOUGH IN ITS OWN SITUATION, to preserve, unawed and uninfluenced, the necessary impartiality between an INDIVIDUAL accused, and the REPRESENTATIVES OF THE PEOPLE, HIS ACCUSERS?

Could the Supreme Court have been relied upon as answering this description? It is much to be doubted, whether the members of that tribunal would at all times be endowed with so eminent a portion of fortitude, as would be called for in the execution of so difficult a task; and it is still more to be doubted, whether they would possess the degree of credit and authority, which might, on certain occasions, be indispensable towards reconciling the people to a decision that should happen to clash with an accusation brought by their immediate representatives. A deficiency in the first, would be fatal to the accused; in the last, dangerous to the public tranquillity. The hazard in both these respects, could only be avoided, if at all, by rendering that tribunal more numerous than would consist with a reasonable attention to economy. The necessity of a numerous court for the trial of impeachments, is equally dictated by the nature of the proceeding. This can never be tied down by such strict rules, either in the delineation of the offense by the prosecutors, or in the construction of it by the judges, as in common cases serve to limit the discretion of courts in favor of personal security. There will be no jury to stand between the judges who are to pronounce the sentence of the law, and the party who is to receive or suffer it. The awful discretion which a court of impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of persons.

These considerations seem alone sufficient to authorize a conclusion, that the Supreme Court would have been an improper substitute for the Senate, as a court of impeachments. There remains a further consideration, which will not a little strengthen this conclusion. It is this: The punishment which may be the consequence of conviction upon impeachment, is not to terminate the chastisement of the offender. After having been sentenced to a prepetual ostracism from the esteem and confidence, and honors and emoluments of his country, he will still be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law. Would it be proper that the persons who had disposed of his fame, and his most valuable rights as a citizen in one trial, should, in another trial, for the same offense, be also the disposers of his life and his fortune? Would there not be the greatest reason to apprehend, that error, in the first sentence, would be the parent of error in the second sentence? That the strong bias of one decision would be apt to overrule the influence of any new lights which might be brought to vary the complexion of another decision? Those who know anything of human nature, will not hesitate to answer these questions in the affirmative; and will be at no loss to perceive, that by making the same persons judges in both cases, those who might happen to be the objects of prosecution would, in a great measure, be deprived of the double security intended them by a double trial. The loss of life and estate would often be virtually included in a sentence which, in its terms, imported nothing more than dismission from a present, and disqualification for a future, office. It may be said, that the intervention of a jury, in the second instance, would obviate the danger. But juries are frequently influenced by the opinions of judges. They are sometimes induced to find special verdicts, which refer the main question to the decision of the court. Who would be willing to stake his life and his estate upon the verdict of a jury acting under the auspices of judges who had predetermined his guilt?

Would it have been an improvement of the plan, to have united the Supreme Court with the Senate, in the formation of the court of impeachments? This union would certainly have been attended with several advantages; but would they not have been overbalanced by the signal disadvantage, already stated, arising from the agency of the same judges in the double prosecution to which the offender would be liable? To a certain extent, the benefits of that union will be obtained from making the chief justice of the Supreme Court the president of the court of impeachments, as is proposed to be done in the plan of the convention; while the inconveniences of an entire incorporation of the former into the latter will be substantially avoided. This was perhaps the prudent mean. I forbear to remark upon the additional pretext for clamor against the judiciary, which so considerable an augmentation of its authority would have afforded.

Would it have been desirable to have composed the court for the trial of impeachments, of persons wholly distinct from the other departments of the government? There are weighty arguments, as well against, as in favor of, such a plan. To some minds it will not appear a trivial objection, that it could tend to increase the complexity of the political machine, and to add a new spring to the government, the utility of which would at best be questionable. But an objection which will not be thought by any unworthy of attention, is this: a court formed upon such a plan, would either be attended with a heavy expense, or might in practice be subject to a variety of casualties and inconveniences. It must either consist of permanent officers, stationary at the seat of government, and of course entitled to fixed and regular stipends, or of certain officers of the State governments to be called upon whenever an impeachment was actually depending. It will not be easy to imagine any third mode materially different, which could rationally be proposed. As the court, for reasons already given, ought to be numerous, the first scheme will be reprobated by every man who can compare the extent of the public wants with the means of supplying them. The second will be espoused with caution by those who will seriously consider the difficulty of collecting men dispersed over the whole Union; the injury to the innocent, from the procrastinated determination of the charges which might be brought against them; the advantage to the guilty, from the opportunities which delay would afford to intrigue and corruption; and in some cases the detriment to the State, from the prolonged inaction of men whose firm and faithful execution of their duty might have exposed them to the persecution of an intemperate or designing majority in the House of Representatives. Though this latter supposition may seem harsh, and might not be likely often to be verified, yet it ought not to be forgotten that the demon of faction will, at certain seasons, extend his sceptre over all numerous bodies of men.

But though one or the other of the substitutes which have been examined, or some other that might be devised, should be thought preferable to the plan in this respect, reported by the convention, it will not follow that the Constitution ought for this reason to be rejected. If mankind were to resolve to agree in no institution of government, until every part of it had been adjusted to the most exact standard of perfection, society would soon become a general scene of anarchy, and the world a desert. Where is the standard of perfection to be found? Who will undertake to unite the discordant opinions of a whole commuity, in the same judgment of it; and to prevail upon one conceited projector to renounce his INFALLIBLE criterion for the FALLIBLE criterion of his more CONCEITED NEIGHBOR? To answer the purpose of the adversaries of the Constitution, they ought to prove, not merely that particular provisions in it are not the best which might have been imagined, but that the plan upon the whole is bad and pernicious.

PUBLIUS.

Source

For more context I recommend this book.

Historian Joanne Freeman Delivers the Tweet of the Day

In case you missed it, a bunch of pro-Trump Republican members of the House of Representatives tried to barge into a closed-door deposition conducted by the House Intelligence Committee.  The committee was preparing to interview Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper as part of the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Watch it all here:

This is a pathetic political stunt.

Here is Arizona representative Andy Biggs:

And here is Yale historian Joanne Freeman:

Addendum:  The GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee are: Devin Nunez (CA), Mike Conaway (TX), Mike Turner (OH), Brad Wenstrup (OH), Chris Stewart (UT), Rick Crawford (AR), Elise Stefanik (NY), Will Hurd (TX), and John Ratcliffe (TX).

Chernow: Alexander Hamilton Would Have Endorsed the Impeachment of Trump

2b571-hamiltonHamilton biographer Ron Chernow weighs-in on impeachment at The Washington Post.  Here is a taste:

President Trump has described the impeachment proceedings as a “coup,” and his White House counsel has termed them “unconstitutional.” This would come as a surprise to Alexander Hamilton, who wrote not only the 11 essays in “The Federalist” outlining and defending the powers of the presidency, but also the two essays devoted to impeachment.

There seems little doubt, given his writings on the presidency, that Hamilton would have been aghast at Trump’s behavior and appalled by his invitation to foreign actors to meddle in our elections. As a result, he would most certainly have endorsed the current impeachment inquiry. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trump embodies Hamilton’s worst fears about the kind of person who might someday head the government.

Among our founders, Hamilton’s views count heavily because he was the foremost proponent of a robust presidency, yet he also harbored an abiding fear that a brazen demagogue could seize the office. That worry helps to explain why he analyzed impeachment in such detail: He viewed it as a crucial instrument to curb possible abuses arising from the enlarged powers he otherwise championed.

Read the rest here.

What is Impeachment For?

Impeachment trial

Harvard historian Jill Lepore asks this question at The New Yorker.  Here is a taste:

Bird-eyed Aaron Burr was wanted for murder in two states when he presided over the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in the Senate, in 1805. The House had impeached Chase, a Marylander, on seven articles of misconduct and one article of rudeness. Burr had been indicted in New Jersey, where, according to the indictment, “not having the fear of God before his eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil,” he’d killed Alexander Hamilton, the former Secretary of the Treasury, in a duel. Because Hamilton, who was shot in the belly, died in New York, Burr had been indicted there, too. Still, the Senate met in Washington, and, until Burr’s term expired, he held the title of Vice-President of the United States.

The public loves an impeachment, until the public hates an impeachment. For the occasion of Chase’s impeachment trial, a special gallery for lady spectators had been built at the back of the Senate chamber. Burr, a Republican, presided over a Senate of twenty-five Republicans and nine Federalists, who sat, to either side of him, on two rows of crimson cloth-covered benches. They faced three rows of green cloth-covered benches occupied by members of the House of Representatives, Supreme Court Justices, and President Thomas Jefferson’s Cabinet. The House managers (the impeachment-trial equivalent of prosecutors), led by the Virginian John Randolph, sat at a table covered with blue cloth; at another blue table sat Chase and his lawyers, led by the red-faced Maryland attorney general, Luther Martin, a man so steady of heart and clear of mind that in 1787 he’d walked out of the Constitutional Convention, and refused to sign the Constitution, after objecting that its countenancing of slavery was “inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution and dishonorable to the American character.” Luther (Brandybottle) Martin had a weakness for liquor. This did not impair him. As a wise historian once remarked, Martin “knew more law drunk than the managers did sober.”

Impeachment is an ancient relic, a rusty legal instrument and political weapon first wielded by the English Parliament, in 1376, to wrest power from the King by charging his ministers with abuses of power, convicting them, removing them from office, and throwing them in prison. Some four hundred years later, impeachment had all but vanished from English practice when American delegates to the Constitutional Convention provided for it in Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

It’s one thing to know this power exists. It’s another to use it. In one view, nicely expressed by an English solicitor general in 1691, “The power of impeachment ought to be, like Goliath’s sword, kept in the temple, and not used but on great occasions.” Yet this autumn, in the third year of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump, House Democrats have unsheathed that terrible, mighty sword. Has time dulled its blade?

Read the rest here.

Should Trump be Impeached? College Students Weigh-In

Calvin-College-450x300

Here are a few quick takeaways from a recently released Axios poll of college students:

  • 97% of college Democrats approve of impeachment
  • 76% of college Independents approve of impeachment
  • 22%  of college Republicans approve of impeachment
  • The number of college students who approve of impeachment is growing, especially among independents
  • The number of college students who approve of impeachment is much higher than the general public

Read it all here.

George Will: The GOP is “a party of slow-learning careerists” who have tethered their “careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw”

George-Will-Donald-Trump-640x480

I am glad that conservative columnist George Will is coming to Messiah College on October 31, 2019.  In yesterday’s column, Will rips into the Republican Party and its “canine loyalty” to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

In Federalist 51, James Madison anticipated a wholesome rivalry and constructive tension between the government’s two political branches: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected to the constitutional rights of the place.” Equilibrium between the branches depends on “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” But equilibrium has vanished as members of Congress think entirely as party operatives and not at all as institutionalists.

Trump is not just aggressively but lawlessly exercising the interests of his place, counting on Congress, after decades of lassitude regarding its interests, being an ineffective combatant. Trump’s argument, injected into him by subordinates who understand that absurdity is his vocation, is essentially that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions are unconstitutional.

The canine loyalty of Senate Republicans will keep Trump in office. But until he complies with House committee subpoenas, the House must not limply hope federal judges will enforce their oversight powers. Instead, the House should wield its fundamental power, that of the purse, to impose excruciating costs on executive branch noncompliance. This can be done.

In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.

Read the entire piece here.

On Rudy Giuliani and the Salem Witch Trials

Salem_witch2

In case you missed it, here is yet another example of a politician’s sloppy use of history.

 

Or watch this.  (Now I am really curious to know what “two books” on the Salem Witch Trials that Trump’s personal attorney read).

Marisa Iati of The Washington Post does a nice job of addressing the many problems with Giuliani’s comment. She draws heavily from the excellent work of historian Emerson Baker.  A taste:

Although those suspected of practicing black magic have been persecuted at least since biblical times, hysteria around witchcraft in the United States peaked in the late 17th century. Young girls who started screaming and flying into “fits” would prompt local men to complain to a judge that someone was harming the girls through witchcraft. A dubious legal process would follow.

“Under the English tradition of justice, you are innocent until proven guilty,” said Emerson W. Baker, a history professor at Salem State University who has studied the witch trials. “However, in 1692, that clearly did not happen.”

Giuliani was correct that accusers at the Salem trials had to attach their names to their testimony. His claim that people accused of witchcraft were confronted by the witnesses in their cases, however, was largely false.

Many of the people who accused others of witchcraft never appeared at trial, Baker said. Instead, the supposedly afflicted girls would give depositions that were then presented in court. In these cases, there was no opportunity to cross-examine the accusers.

To start a witchcraft investigation, a person would complain about someone to a local judge. The judge would compel the sheriff’s office to arrest the accused so they could appear before a panel of judges, who would determine whether there was enough evidence to detain them before trial.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course Giuliani breaks almost every rule of good historical thinking here.  The comparison between 17th-century New England and impeachment process in the U.S. Constitution is absurd.  The legal culture of Puritan New England and the legal culture of the early American republic were completely different.  If you are going to invoke the Salem Witch Trials, then let’s talk about spectral evidence and execution of Quakers in Boston Common.  Or let’s just talk about how things ended up for the supposed witches in 1692.

The Benefits of Impeachment: Some Lessons from Andrew Johnson

Johnson

Historian Gregory Downs thinks that Trump should be impeached even if the Senate keeps him office. There is a good chance that the time between the impeachment in the House and the trial in the Senate might “curtail Trump’s worst behaviors” and neutralize him politically.

Downs uses the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to make his point.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

Johnson’s adept attorneys succeeded in protecting his tenure in office in two ways. First, they sought to delay the Senate trial. Then, they used that delay to persuade Johnson to keep his hands off Reconstruction. As the trial hung over him and then dragged on through April and May, a chastened Johnson pledged to appoint a moderate secretary of war, stop shuffling generals in the Southern states, and let the Army and African American Republicans complete their work in the South. By April, a half-dozen former Confederate states had ratified their new constitutions and asked Congress for readmission. Only then, in mid-May, did the Senate finally vote on Johnson’s fate.

Even with his acquiescence to Reconstruction, Johnson survived only by a single vote in that Senate tally. Although the 14th Amendment was not ratified until July 1868, the impeachment trial that put Johnson’s fate into question allowed freedpeople, white Southern Republicans and the Army to freely engage in the crucial work of making what some scholars call a “Second Constitution,” a refashioning of the federal government’s role in protecting individual rights through the 14th Amendment’s pledges of equal protection and due process. Most significantly, those reconstructed states provided the votes to ratify the proposed amendment, which has subsequently shaped Supreme Court decisions on desegregation, voting rights, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech and assembly, and many other basic rights we enjoy today.

Impeachment also did play a role in Johnson leaving office by weakening him politically. In 1866, Johnson had explored the creation of a new party that combined Democrats and conservative Republicans. When that collapsed, he spent part of 1867 trying to engineer nomination by the Democratic Party, his old home. But the trial helped make him untouchable, and the Democrats turned to a different candidate, New York’s Horatio Seymour, leaving Johnson off the ballot.

Analogies are never perfect. We are not now in a period of Reconstruction, or a moment when Congress and the president are primarily at war over such a specific set of laws. Nonetheless, as Johnson did, Trump threatens the nation’s stability by attacking our faith in elections and the rule of law, as well as our global alliances. His tweets and incendiary rhetoric are dangerous, and although no one can say how he would respond to a looming trial, one possibility is that he, like Johnson, might tone down his behavior to avoid removal. And this possibility makes it worth taking the political risk posed by impeachment.

Trying to judge the worthiness of impeachment solely by whether it ends in conviction and removal would be a mistake. If the presence of a trial disciplines Trump to stop encouraging foreign interference in U.S. elections and to start curtailing his destabilizing rhetoric, impeachment will have been worth it, whether it ends in conviction or acquittal, in 2020 reelection or defeat. While many will call for a speedy impeachment trial if the House votes to impeach, senators might look to the Johnson case to ask whether a deliberate process will sustain pressure on the White House to behave more responsibly, and give the president the opportunity to save — or destroy — his tenure in office.

Read the rest here.

My Piece Today at Religion News Service: “Trump’s evangelicals bewail a ‘civil war’ while still profiting from the last one”

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste:

But Jeffress also seemed to forget another important point about American civic life in his civil war comment. The United States, after all, had a real Civil War, in which over 600,000 lives were lost.

Did the country heal after this war?

The United States still exists, implying that some healing certainly took place. But the war also left us with some open wounds. The war brought an end to slavery, but it did not bring an end to the racism upon which slavery was built.

These wounds are still open and Jeffress’ own First Baptist Dallas, with its long history of segregation, has contributed to keeping them open. His congregation was built upon a Civil War fracture that has not yet healed. Under his leadership, it has failed to confront its long-standing commitment to racial injustice in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to fear a new civil war. Instead, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, we still need to bind the wounds of the old one. The impeachment and removal of Trump will be a step toward the ongoing work Lincoln called us to do.

Read the entire piece here.

The Chief Court Evangelical Weighs In on Impeachment

Last Friday The Washington Post published my piece titled “How evangelical leaders surrounded Clinton during the last presidential impeachment process.”  In that piece I wrote:

In his memoir, Clinton specifically mentions Campolo and MacDonald as two of three pastors he asked to counsel him for at least once a month for an indefinite period. (The third pastor was Philip Wogaman, a Methodist.)

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Yesterday on Fox and Friends, we saw one of Trump’s court evangelicals, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, make me look like a prophet.  Watch:

As we all know by now, Trump was watching Jeffress on Fox News and decided to take the pastor’s counsel and run with it on his Twitter account:

Trump has learned a lot from his court evangelical counselors.  Perhaps most importantly, he learned how to fight a more aggressive culture war.

Jeffress remarks deserve a bit more analysis.  Some thoughts:

  1.  Jeffress seems to be making his pro-Trump political position the only conduit through which God hears our prayers.
  2. Jeffress says that Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the nation “reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying ‘please pray with me, but the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe’. If you’re really sincere about that prayer then put down the dang match.” Of course Jeffress is incapable of seeing how he has been the “pyromaniac” of pyromaniacs since Trump announced his candidacy.  His divisive rhetoric has contributed to the fire raging in our nation and the church.
  3. Jeffress is angry and passionate.  He often behaves this way when he gets on his political high horse for Fox News.  This, after all, is why they pay him to go on television.  I imagine that Jeffress thinks he is exhibiting righteous anger.  But all I see is a deeply bitter and fearful man who has allowed politics to transform him and his character.
  4. Jeffress says that this week he has been traveling around the country speaking to “literally thousands and thousands” of evangelical Christians. “I have never seen them more angry over any issue,” he says ‘than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election, and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”  First, if Jeffress is correct when he says he has never seen evangelicals more angry over “any other issue,” then what does this say about American evangelicals or the kinds of evangelicals he hangs out with?  Heck, Trump separated parents and kids at the border! Or lets take one of Jeffress’s favorites: babies are being aborted in the womb.  Are these cases not worthy of more evangelical anger than an impeachment?  Second, there is no way that Jeffress would be able to solicit the beliefs of thousands and thousands of evangelicals in a week of travel.  Having said that, he is probably right to suggest thousands upon thousands of evangelicals are upset (see my previous point).  Third, impeachment is in the United States Constitution.  It is not an “illegitimate” way of removing the president from office.  Fourth, the United States House of Representatives, the congressional body responsible for impeachment, is made up of men and women who were elected by the people.  In the 2018 midterm elections, the people of the United States gave the Democratic Party a majority in the House.  There is no illegitimacy here.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government woth the power to impeach.
  5. Jeffress says “the only impeachable offense” Trump committed was “beating Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Notice how Jeffress tries to rile-up the base here with his slick and deliberately vague talking points.  This is fear-mongering 101.  At no point in this interview does Jeffress come face-to-face with the reality of what Trump did on that phone call with the president of Ukraine.
  6. And then the punch-line: “If the Democrats are successful at removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”  First, this is the kind of appeal to fear that I wrote about extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Second, as historian Kevin Kruse has already pointed out, “Trump can only be removed through impeachment if two-thirds of the Senate votes to remove him. To do that, 20 Republicans would need to join the 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. Removal would be bipartisan. Framing it as some kind of civil war isn’t just dangerous. It’s dumb.”  Third, I want to encourage history teachers to debate Jeffress’s Civil War comment in their classrooms.  Jeffress seems to forget that the United States had a real Civil War in which over 700,000 lives were lost.  Did we heal?  Well, that’s up for debate.  The United States still exists.  So I guess some healing took place.  On the other hand, the racial backlash that came with this largely white “healing” process is still with us today.  In fact, Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church of Dallas is partially responsible for why the open wounds of race and slavery still need more healing.
  7. Jeffress says that evangelical Christians need to “act” by calling their representatives and telling them to support Trump.  He quotes Daniel 11:32: “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action.”  This verse is part of a larger passage in the Old Testament book of Daniel that mentions Jews standing up for the “holy covenant” between God and Israel after a Syrian invasion.  These Jews stood firm and took action to defend this covenant.  By invoking this verse in this context, Jeffress is once again implying that evangelical Christians, like the Jews before them, need to stand up and defend their chosen status.  We can trace this “New Israel” language back to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first group in America to claim to have an exceptional or covenantal relationship with God.  Jeffress is engaging in Christian nationalism here.  The Bible does not teach any kind of special relationship or “covenant” between God and the United States of America.

Expect more of this from the court evangelicals in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Jeff Flake to GOP: “You cannot go elsewhere for a soul”

Flake

I wish Jeff Flake did more to oppose Trump while he was a member of the Senate.  He voted with Trump 81% of the time.  (This was not as much as another supposedly “anti-Trump” Republican Senator Ben Sasse and a bit more than “anti-Trump” Senator Mitt Romney).

But he did something good today.

Here is a taste of his message to the members of his party:

My fellow Republicans, it is time to risk your careers in favor of your principles. Whether you believe the president deserves impeachment, you know he does not deserve reelection.

Our country will have more presidents. But principles, well, we get just one crack at those. For those who want to put America first, it is critically important at this moment in the life of our country that we all, here and now, do just that.

Trust me when I say that you can go elsewhere for a job. But you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.

Read the entire piece here.

Today’s Piece at *The Washington Post*: Clinton’s Evangelical Advisers vs. Trump’s Evangelical Advisers

Clinton I have sinned

A taste:

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Read the entire piece here.

Michigan GOP Congressman: Impeach Trump

Amash

On the final evening of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump came to Grand Rapids, Michigan to rally the faithful.  The next day he won Michigan, a state (along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) that carried him to the presidency.

Today Grand Rapids’s GOP congressman, libertarian Justin Amash, called for Trump’s impeachment.  Read Amash’s entire Twitter thread here.

Interesting notes:  Amash’s father is a Palestinian Christian and his mother is a Syrian Christian.  He was the valedictorian at Grand Rapids Christian High School–a school founded by the Christian Reformed Church. His wife Kara is a graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids.  He is a member of an Orthodox church.