Yesterday Donald J. Trump became the third president to be impeached. The vote in the House seems somewhat embarrassing because no Republican voted for either of the articles of impeachment. One prominent Democrat running for political office, Tulsi Gabbard, actually voted “present” and opted against voting for or against the impeachment. She cited worries about tribalism.
If she were to speak more plainly, she’d basically admit that the impeachment was a farce.
At this point I have only a handful of Democratic friends, and I avoid speaking about politics with any of them. They are excited about the impeachment and think history will memorialize the House vote as a historic victory for justice. These friends exist in an alternate universe where Rachel Maddow is the utmost authority and Hollywood celebrities speak for the heart and soul of America.
Everyone else I know recognizes that the impeachment of Donald J. Trump was incredibly ridiculous. “Treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors” simply does not fit the pretext for impeaching him. Some consideration should have been paid to the fact that the same Congress tried for years to build an impeachment case against Trump based on evidence that we know now was false. This important context vanished as a point of reflection as if everyone could feign ignorance about the obvious lack of credibility and suspicious motives in the assemblage of anti-Trump people pushing these articles. Since the charges themselves look incongruous with the terms in the US Constitution, it feels somewhat pointless to analyze the process by which the hearings played out. But since we are talking about impeachment we might as well talk about how the impeaching hearings went.
Was this supposed to be like a trial? Did the defendant have any chance to represent himself or present exculpatory evidence? What on earth just happened? Why are we so worried about whether Trump asked the Ukraine to investigate credible concerns about corruption by Joe Biden as Vice President, when any sane citizenry would be concerned instead about the corruption by a Vice President?
Virtually everyone I know who supports impeachment falls back on the claim that Trump threatens our democracy by being such an unlikable person. Since Trump is (in their view) evil, anything he does or says reinforces the original claim against him. If he speaks kindly he is engaging in deceit. If he speaks aggressively he proves how awful a person he is.
Due process cannot exist when the main accusation against a person is the generally uneasy feeling that he is bad. But we have arrived at an impeachment because a large portion of the American populace believes that you can entangle investigative and disciplinary procedures of any kind — whether in the government, in a school, in a church, or in a company — in a basic gesture of disdain for an individual. Many people believe that you can open an inquest, hearing, or disciplinary case with the foundational pretext of showing that a person is bad.
Every society I have studied has had some sense that justice is best served with a process that allows the truth to surface. The Romans treasured their legal system. The Mosaic law gives a special place to judges. European countries emerged from the medieval world with various procedures to examine charges and assess their truthfulness. Even the Inquisition, as horrible as it was, consisted of a corpus of investigators who had some basic set of rules to guide their investigations.
The first ten amendments to the US Constitution focus a great deal on due process. That’s a good thing. Following in a long line of societies that sought to institute judicial procedures, the framers of the US Constitution wanted to set basic benchmarks or standards for how people could be accused and evaluated.
But let’s think for a moment on what happened to Jesus Christ. The Lord in His providence placed at the center of the story of Christ’s life a series of legal proceedings. The Jews and Romans both had their legal procedures. When Jesus stood accused they claimed to be following the letter of their respective legal traditions. Injustice resulted anyway. This is not a minor matter of the passion story. The Lord in His providential wisdom wanted to remind us that due process could not work if the hearts of men are impure.
Which brings us to our impeachment. The farce of the proceedings against Trump did not arise in a vacuum. Instead, this ugly melodrama grew out of a deep cultural rot that has affected many Americans in their personal lives. Whether it is Title IX investigations on college campuses, human-resources departments holding confusing meetings with employees, or Christian denominations overwhelming people with Byzantine resolution processes, we find that America has lost the spirit of due process the more Americans use it to war against perceived enemies.
I survived two witch hunts, one in California and one in Texas. One involved Title IX and the other, Baptist ecclesiology. In both cases there was the semblance of due process but no real means of arriving at just determinations. In both cases I ended up having to lose work that I loved doing at places that benefited from the work I did. My case is not unique or anomalous. Many people find themselves dealing with “lawfare,” the new warfare–the kind of distorted and purposefully confusing, fake due process to which Jesus Christ was submitted as He was sent to be crucified.
Because our due process has fallen apart, many people in America find it unremarkable, even normal, for people to be accused of vague things based on others’ disdain for them, and then put through hearings or examinations that serve mostly to create an illusion of thoroughness when in fact, everything began with a foregone conclusion. To a people truly committed to hard-fought rights and justice, such travesties would yield outrage. Certainly outrage does light up some quarters of America. But to too many Americans the impeachment, as sloppy as it was, was business as usual, exactly what people expect from day to day. Their main hope to survive such an unjust culture rests on the aspiration to being on the side of the accuser.