Wednesday cartoon

The other day I spent a couple of hours listening to House Judiciary Committee deliberations on the two articles of impeachment after following related developments closely for days. As one newscaster remarked that evening, these kinds of hearings are set up to be tedious, to go point by point, objection by objection, amendment by amendment.

So what stuck out? At least for me?

First, these sorts of hearings have the wrong name. They should be called “speakings.” Too often committee members seemed to speak right past one another, with no indication anyone had listened to or heard what the speakers before them had said. One wonders if everyone already had his or her list of points to make before the gavel came down to commence. Perhaps they all felt as if they were speaking to constituents back home or to anyone in the American public willing to listen or watch the proceedings on TV.

I kept wanting to yell: “Answer the point the previous speaker just raised!” I could think, quickly, of several things that could be said to refute or support a point just made. Deliberating implies a back-and-forth dialogue related to topics raised, the earnest working through of a particular issue or question. But that’s not what we saw or heard very often on either side of the aisle. Prepared points were prioritized, points meant to distract from what was just said, rather than honestly addressing the point. In short, what we heard and saw didn’t really qualify as dialogue.

The two most galling defenses seemed to come from the GOP side. One has been so often argued the last several weeks that it feels like the required beginning of a paragraph or opinion:

“The Democrats never accepted the results of the 2016 election. They have been out to impeach Trump since the day after the election. Trump has suffered more criticism and more abuse than any other president. They are trying to set aside the will of the people.”

Please.

The Democrats I know did not like the results of the 2016 election, but we had to accept it. The whole impeachment drive did not really gain traction till the whistleblower’s report last summer and the subsequent transcript summary of the July 25 call between the president of the United States and the president of Ukraine. Before that, I thought it was all a waste of time, as did “evil” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who seemed to be doing everything possible to discourage impeachment talk in the ranks. But the blatancy of the quid pro quo involving President Trump’s demands of the Ukrainian president, and subsequent confirmation of the extensiveness of it, left serious lawmakers with no choice.

No president has been free of criticism and what members of his party might call abuse from the opposition. Memories are short about all the criticism and abuse heaped upon the Obamas for all kinds of inconsequential matters. Some Republicans in Waco demanded President Obama’s impeachment for employing executive orders in lieu of congressional inaction — but no one was ever indicted in a scandal. President Trump, on the other hand, has courted abuse, criticism and scandal involving the White House since taking office. The opposition did not have to go looking for it. It was handed to them, and the American people, often via Twitter, White House leaks and a disillusioned staff.

And setting aside the will of the people? If one accepts that repeated Republican whine, then one is also saying that the will of the people is that the president can do all kinds of unscrupulous and unconstitutional things, merely because he won election. Again, Republicans have short memories: It was not long ago that the GOP celebrated their stated commitment to not give President Obama any legislative victories. And there’s the unprecedented Senate stonewalling of the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Second, if the GOP wanted witnesses who could presumably clear the president, all they had to do was persuade him to allow the people closest to these decisions about Ukraine to testify under oath: Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and the president himself. In the best of American traditions about law and order, we can only assume these individuals are afraid to do so for fear of incriminating the president and/or themselves.

The pots and pans have been rattling and banging on Capitol Hill, but the loudest racket came from the ones with the least amount of substance to say. One can only pray that this grave subject will be more seriously deliberated in the Senate, though at this point it seems partisanship and political posturing will prevail, not justice and accountability. And to that degree, perhaps some observers are correct: In the final analysis, the integrity of the Senate will soon be on trial.

Former Wacoan Bill Gaventa, now living in Austin, is founder and director emeritus of Institute on Theology and Disability and head of the National Collaborative on Faith and Disability.

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