I’m astounded and appalled that members of both parties in Congress were weighing whether to vote for impeachment and removal from office of President Trump, based not on evidence, but on whether it would mean the loss of their seats in the November 2020 elections. We elected these Representatives and Senators to act in the best interest of the nation and their districts, not for their own self-interest. Courage and patriotism are in short supply in Congress right now.
In the House, there are several Democrats who got elected in state voting districts that went for President Trump in 2016. Voting to impeach potentially means losing those seats due to voter anger. The same is true for Republican Senators who voted according to the wishes of the President rather than what’s good for the country.
Having been elected to public office, I know that losing an election is the worst thing that can happen to an incumbent. According to studies by researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahaneman, human beings consistently fight harder to avoid losing something than they will to attain something new. If you’re an elected official, every decision is a cost/benefit analysis. “Will my decision help or hurt me in the next election?” This is the question constantly on your mind.
If you watched any of the TV-aired Congressional hearings, you saw members of Congress use their question time to impress voters back home. They gave windy and pompous speeches and opinions before asking questions. During the Intelligence Committee hearings, Democrats used their staff or attorneys who could clearly get to the key questions relevant to whether the President had abused the power of his office. This was probably done for two reasons: 1) The staff and the attorneys know more and are better skilled at questioning than the Representatives, and 2) By using their staffs, the elected officials can protect themselves from soundbites that will be used against them when they’re running for reelection. The staff provides political cover.
Republicans in the Senate are solely concerned about reelection. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has openly stated he is not an impartial juror. He is working closely with the White House in preparation for the impeachment trial. Long-term issues and consequences for the government and the nation are not even an issue for him. The only concern is to protect the President from removal from office; to protect Republican power.
In doing so, a precedent is being set that a standing President can do anything he wants without fear of consequences. In other words, all the struggles and wars fought since the creation of the Magna Carta in 1215 stand to be overthrown. The concept of rule of law (belief that no one is above the law) stands in danger of being abrogated.
As a student of history, I have often thought about the end of the Roman Republic and the creation of the Roman Empire under Julius Caesar and then his adopted son Augustus. Are we at a similar time in history?
It’s ironic to see senators, who are elected to six-year terms, thinking short-term. At the same time, the Democrats, who control the House and are elected to two-year terms, are thinking long-term. The world that I live in of common sense, rationality, and morality seems to be turned upside down. Truth has become a lie and a witch-hunt, while lies and illegal actions are being touted as “perfect” and not impeachable offenses.
The Republicans, formerly the party of morality and family values, have ditched their ethics in order to protect a president who is not worthy to govern. They lie and use their power to deflect attention away from the actual issues. Their chief concern is that Trump supporters will turn them out of office in the primaries. That is an act of cowardice.
The issue has come down to one word—power. Republicans and a few Democrats in Congress ignored their oath of office to defend the Constitution. The did this to avoid public criticism and thus lose their positions of power. Courage and patriotism are in short supply in Congress at this crisis point in history.
Whatever the outcome of the impeachment trial in the Senate, and whatever the results of the 2020 elections, this nation will be in a worse state afterwards.
Richard Elfers is a Green River College professor.