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.
An Elegant and Perceptive Analysis of Impeachment
Benjamin Wittes, The Collapse of the President’s Defense
My high regard for Mr. Wittes’s observations probably has something to do with the fact that I agree with him. In prose more elegant than mine, Wittes writes,
President Trump’s substantive defense against the ongoing impeachment inquiry has crumbled entirely—not just eroded or weakened, but been flattened like a sandcastle hit with a large wave.
It was never a strong defense. After all, Trump himself released the smoking gun early in L’Affaire Ukrainienne when the White House published its memo of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That document erased any question as to whether Trump had asked a foreign head of state to “investigate”—a euphemism for digging up dirt on—his political opponents. There was no longer any doubt that he had asked a foreign country to violate the civil liberties of American citizens by way of interfering in the coming presidential campaign. That much we have known for certain for weeks.
The clarity of the evidence did not stop the president’s allies from trying to fashion some semblance of defense. But the past few days of damaging testimony have stripped away the remaining fig leaves. …
As this tawdry fact pattern has become increasingly exposed, the only defense that remains to the president is that it does not amount to an impeachment-worthy offense—an argument difficult to square with either the history of impeachment or its purpose in our constitutional system.
Wittes goes on to argue, forcefully and at some length, that while a good portion of the Republican Party will simply stop their ears. and refuse to listen—see Federalist 65, supra—nevertheless, it’s important—for many reasons—fully to develop the record and make the case.
I would put it like this:
- As Wittes spells out, Trump’s “defense” has been reduced to pure tribalism.
- As a consequence, the process is evolving to drive a wedge between the purely tribal and the tribal-but-not-purely-tribal among self-identified Republicans.
- Driving out of the Republican Party any and all who have any shred of common sense or the ability to distinguish right from wrong: that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.