By Thomas Coffin
If three years of the Trump administration have demonstrated anything with clarity, it is that 2020 presents the nation with stark choices between integrity or corruption in government, the rule of law or the chaos of caprice, the survival of the Constitution or its demise, democracy or autocracy.
Never before have we witnessed the arrogance of a president claiming he may murder at will without being investigated, much less prosecuted, for his crimes. Never before have we been informed by a president that the Constitutional remedy of impeachment is unavailable if he declares it so, and that he has the power to order witnesses not to cooperate with impeachment proceedings. Never before have we imagined, much less heard, a president invoke the specter of civil war if he were to be impeached.
There are alarming reasons to believe that our country’s foreign policy is driven by the personal interests of the president.
He has described the emolument clause of the Constitution as “phony,” hotels operated by his business enterprises are booked by foreign officials, some of whom don’t even bother to stay there. He refuses to disclose financial documents such as tax returns, which are pertinent to his economic entanglements with foreign entities and countries. He has withdrawn support for allies in a war zone at the request of the leader of a foreign nation where his enterprises reportedly do business — an act that was immediately followed by that nation launching a military attack against the abandoned allies.
Most disturbing of all is the revelation that the president withheld foreign aid to the Ukraine, appropriated by Congress to bolster its defense against an ongoing Russian invasion, and conditioned its delivery on the initiation of a criminal investigation that would implicate a domestic political opponent in the 2020 election. This is an unprecedented abuse of the office of the presidency to further the personal political interests of the individual holding that office. Rather than serving the paramount security interest of our country, he is serving only himself.
Articles of impeachment have been drawn, but there is virtually no reason to believe that the party in control of the Senate will perform its solemn duty of addressing the merits of the charges. Notwithstanding the gravity of the conduct at issue, we have already been treated to the spectacle of dozens of the president’s party storming a supposedly secure hearings room to disrupt the process. This is nothing less than blatant contempt of the very Constitutional function that is the ultimate safeguard of our democracy.
The president himself suggested that whistleblowers reporting his conduct that triggered the proceedings were “close to spies,” who should be identified and “handled like in the old days” (executed). Witnesses with personal knowledge who have come forward to testify at the proceedings have been vilified for doing so. The pejorative “deep state” epithet was applied to career government employees who courageously braved retaliation by placing loyalty to country over loyalty to a president and his malfeasance.
Other potential witnesses with personal knowledge kept their silence and refused to testify, either because of the president’s order or lucrative looming book deals, or a combination of both. In an historic moment reminiscent of Profiles in Courage, the impeachment process is separating the wheat from the chaff. There are few signs, however, that the president’s party will break ranks and take any action to curb his abuse of power or his siege against our Constitution.
In that event, it will be squarely up to “We the People” to decide the direction and fate of our country. The Constitution is not a partisan document. The rule of law is not a partisan principle. Democracy is not a partisan model of governance. These are the very foundations on which our nation is constructed, and they are threatened as never before.
The prophetic warnings uttered by the great Roman orator Cicero some 2,000 years ago when his Republic was crumbling from within are worth reiterating today:
“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. For the traitor appears not a traitor — he speaks in the accents familiar to his victims, and he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation — he walks secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city — he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to be feared.”
A former federal prosecutor, Judge Thomas Coffin was a U.S. magistrate for the District of Oregon until his retirement in 2017. He writes as a private citizen.