After an expected vote for impeachment in the House of Representatives, the fate of Donald Trump will move to the U.S. Senate, where the prospects for the triumph of Constitutional values are bleak and where GOP stalwarts like Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already violated their oaths of impartial judgment by pledging fealty to the President. Remembering a decades-old historical anecdote provides a faint glimmer of hope.
After the Second World War the dangers of Soviet aggression were real and there were real life spies on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But the Red Scare firestorm accelerated by Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and his legions incinerated reputations and ruined lives of hundreds working in government, academia and the film industry. McCarthy, who would ultimately be censured by the U.S. Senate, ran roughshod over his spineless colleagues, using fear tactics to divide people and exacerbate divisions in this country. A reckless demagogue, he claimed he had lists of subversives and challenged the patriotism of anyone who dared criticize him. Until Senator Margaret Chase Smith.
The freshman Senator from Maine, in her first speech on the floor, declared that “we must not become a nation of mental mutes, blindly following demagogues.” She didn’t “want a Democratic administration ‘whitewash’ or ‘coverup’ any more than … a Republican smear or witch hunt.” She denounced the GOP tactics of exploiting fear for political gain. Six Republican Senators signed onto her Declaration of Conscience.
Who among today’s Republican Senators will step up as did Margaret Chase Smith in 1950? Reports have it that if a vote in today’s U.S. Senate were by secret ballot, 30 GOP Senators would vote to impeach President Trump. (Former Senator Jeff Flake said there are at least 35 who would vote that way.) Twenty are needed to complement the Democrats and Independents to reach the super-majority of 67 needed to remove the President from office. Failure to do so will allow him to claim full exoneration and green-light continued abuses of power, including soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.
Who among the closet critics would vote their conscience? Three departing Senators – Lamar Alexander, Mike Enzi, and Pat Roberts – could conceivably stand up for the balance of powers envisioned in the Constitution. Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski and Richard Burr have occasionally criticized Trump, but what would you bet on their fulfilling their oaths of office? Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Martha McSally are others considered long shots to break with party, but they’re all burdened by political considerations in tight races. Getting to 20 is a heavy lift.
The Senate can write its own rules for a post- impeachment trial. It would take just three Republicans to push for a secret ballot. Three could block approval of Senate rules for the proceedings, making their approval contingent upon inclusion of a secret ballot. If that happened, who knows what a glut of courage might emerge? I fear that nothing will happen unless and until someone with the courage and integrity of a Margaret Chase Smith steps to the podium and insists on a return to conscience and integrity to reclaim the heart of the institution and limit executive imperialism, political corruption and abuse of power.
2 Responses to U.S. Senate: Profiles in Courage or Cowardice? by Marjorie Arons-Barron
Thanks for the insights, Marjorie. I wish there were people of Margaret Chase Smith’s caliber in politics today. The GOP, especially, seems to be gutted, its members in thrall to the Trump cult of personality (and in terror of its leader)– and worse, in deep denial of facts.
I’m sick of hearing the insultingly specious, schlocky ham-actor indignation at Mitch McConnell’s open admission he’s not “impartial.”
This is asinine, infantile.
Of COURSE McConnell isn’t “impartial.” Who is? Maybe a Martian who just landed yesterday. Anybody seen him?
At the Senate trial’s outset, the senators will take an oath professing their impartiality.
There isn’t the least contradiction between what McConnell has said and the vow he will take.
The constitution’s framers weren’t such blatant IDIOTS as to think that, by the time an impeachment case reached the Senate, for Pete’s sake, nobody would have an opinion on the merits of the matter.
Like Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk?”
First person obtuse enough to suppose there’s not a single Democrat senator who’s got his/her mind made up on their verdict, please raise your hand….
First person blockheaded enough to fantasize there was an ounce of impartiality behind the years-long Schiff-Nadler vendetta, please raise your hand….
Mitch McConnell can take the oath of impartiality, just as I would were I a senator, with a perfectly clear conscience. The impartiality referred to in the constitution, and in the English of that day, means you are not going to ignore or distort evidence because of personal loyalty . I could make a comment in this vein about the Schiff-Nadler farce we’ve just witnessed, but, well, I guess I just have.
Nobody in their right mind thinks Mitch McConnell is a Trump groupie. In that sense, he is fully impartial enough to satisfy the constitutional expectation.
But the constitution isn’t so stupid as to demand Mitch McConnell not have, or pretend not to have, an opinion on the merits of the whole travesty of governance and parody of statesmanship we have just witnessed. He’s no criminal for being unconvinced, to say the least.
Nor will it be an act of perjury to swear to his “constitutional” impartiality.
I would do the exact same thing.