Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives started the public phase of the impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Donald Trump. That marks Nov. 13 as a somber day – the fourth time in our history that the House of Representatives has taken this step toward indicting and possibly removing a president.
Against the backdrop of two years of a presidency that has been marked with scandal and spectacle, it would be tempting to categorize these hearings as more of the same. The multiple stories labeled with the word “unprecedented” that break on an almost a daily basis have the effect of equalizing the serious and the ridiculous to the point where it’s hard to know what actually matters.
These hearings matter.
Ignoring them as just more melodrama would be a grave mistake. Dismissing them would contribute to a constitutional crisis, as it would signal that our essential document shaping the values of the country has become stripped of its meaning and power. The impeachment process was laid out in Article II of the Constitution by our Founding Fathers to provide a check on unbridled power.
Being able to elect the person who holds the most powerful office in the world is a privilege that only citizens of the United States have. That privilege comes with the responsibility to use the tools available to hold that power to account.
By design, the process of holding a president accountable is through the political system, not the courts. More so, it starts in that larger chamber of Congress. That makes impeachment subject to the court of public opinion – and puts the public at the center of these hearings.
The nation is entering this impeachment process divided along partisan lines. In the House vote to formalize the inquiry, all but two Democrats voted in favor and all Republicans voted against. That vote reflects the sentiment in the country. According to Real Clear Politics’ polling average, the country is split on impeachment down the middle, with the vast majority of Democrats supporting the inquiry and the vast majority of Republicans opposing it.
With each side entrenched, and with congressional hearings that often seem more like political theater, what we risk losing is a clear-eyed view of the facts. And those facts must be the goal of this process.
No matter which side of the fence you are on, this moment is important to witness – not just as spectator, but as a potential participant. The representative who will need to cast a vote, if and when articles of impeachment are introduced against Trump, will look to their constituents to see what is politically viable for the future of their careers. That gives the power to hold the president accountable back to the people.
The actions of Trump that led to this inquiry, and his attempts to thwart the process, are deeply disturbing. But regardless of how the inquiry ends, it is our civic duty to pay attention to the facts as they emerge.
In the court of public opinion, the people are the judges. If we don’t pay attention, how can that court be just?
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER (TNS)