Monthly Archives: March 2018

We the People, Part 2

In Part 1 I reflected on the Preamble to the Constitution and tried to tease out the meaning of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors”. I concluded that the Founders not only had felonies in mind, but also disreputable behavior in office. Alexander Hamilton, for one, considered this issue, and I rather like what he wrote. He said that high crimes and misdemeanors are “…those offences 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.”

In Part 2, I want to consider whether the impeachment clause applies to Donald Trump. There have been calls for his impeachment of and removal from office almost from the day he was sworn in. Some of these calls have been frivolous, but after a bit more than a year into his Presidency, it seems to me that a serious consideration is called for.

Hamilton believed that a President could legitimately be removed from office for a violation or abuse of office of the Presidency. The question we have to ask is whether Trump has violated or abused his office. Has he committed a felony, or has his behavior in office been so egregious as to bring dishonor and disrepute on the office or the nation itself? The Mueller investigation will disclose whether he has committed a felony. But let us consider egregious behavior. Perhaps the most serious such behavior would be violations of his oath of office.

Has he violated his oath? To echo another of our founding documents, let these facts be submitted to a candid world:

  • He has repeatedly lied, distorted, and disregarded the truth, not only to the people, but also to allies and friendly nations. On occasion he has even bragged about doing this. As a result, his word cannot be trust at home or abroad.
  • He has failed to address a direct assault by an advisory of the nation upon our democratic process, our unity as a people, and the infrastructure that supports our very existence as a people, and thus he has placed the people in grave danger.
  • He has failed to address the destruction of territories and cities within the nation by natural disasters and ridiculed officials of those areas when they have asked for and even begged for help. Even as I write this, large numbers of our citizens are suffering from this failure, months after hurricanes destroyed their homes, their power grid, and their economy.
  • He has, by his reckless rhetoric, enflamed violence and hatred among the people and encouraged the degradation of civil disagreement into angry disputation. As a result, civil order has been disrupted and violent elements within the nation have caused deaths among the people and the destruction of property.
  • He has, through his rhetoric and actions shown contempt for significant segments of our people.
  • He has disparaged the findings of science, specifically calling into question the nearly unanimous findings of climate scientists, thus endangering the nation’s, and, indeed, the entire world’s, economy, its ability to feed itself, and its health, safety, and sustainability.
  • He has alienated allies and friends, refusing to cooperate with other nations, thus isolating the United States with utter disregard for the impact of such isolation on the people.
  • He has shown contempt for our government, in some instances through failure to appoint sufficient administrators to carry out the legitimate functions of government and in other instances through the appointment of unqualified and inept officials.
  • He has publicly ridiculed high-ranking leaders of the FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department. He has also ignored and disregarded his own intelligence services, preferring to accept the word of an advisory of the United States. In so doing he has weakened our ability to enforce Federal law and respond to attacks from that very advisory, thus compromising the nation’s integrity.

Let me repeat the purpose of our government as stated in the Preamble:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Donald Trump has weakened our union, disrupted domestic tranquility, failed to defend the nation, and threatened the general welfare. As a result of these failures, the liberty of the people is weakened. He has violated his oath of office, abused the trust of the people, and failed to execute the office of the Presidency with honor and honesty. In short, he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. It is, then, highly appropriate for him and his entire administration to be impeached and removed from office.


We the People, Pt. 1

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Most of us will recognize these words. This is the Preamble to the US Constitution. Not only does it set out the reasons for writing the document, but also, and far more importantly, it sets out the reasons for creating this nation. The United States was not created for the benefit of a few powerful men. The Founders were speaking for “we the People”, all of us. And they were creating a nation for the benefit of all.

The 229 years or so since its ratification have been spent trying to work out what that means. Who are The People? One might think that the answer is obvious, but history suggests otherwise. The Founders did not think that enslaved people, or women, or native people were part of The People, or at least not as fully as white men were.

Blood has been spilled over this question, and a terrible war was fought over it. But slowly a somewhat less than unanimous consensus has coalesced around an answer: “We, the People,” means exactly what it says. It means everyone, every citizen, every resident, every person living in the United States. To be sure the laws pursuant to the accomplishment of the Constitution’s purpose apply differently to different people. For example, 13-year-olds cannot vote in national elections. But the purposes of the Constitution apply equally to all. This is not a nation of the few; it is a nation of all.

When someone assumes the Presidency, that person is required to swear this oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” In other words, the President is required to carry out the purpose of Constitution, to “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Failure to do so constitutes a violation of the oath, a dereliction of duty.

One of the checks on the power of Federal officials is the power granted to Congress to remove officials from office. Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states, “The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” To date several people have been impeached, but only eight have been removed from office, all of them judges. Impeachment and conviction is a complicated process, as it should be. Impeachment requires a majority vote in the House and removal from office requires a 2/3 majority in the Senate.

It is reasonably clear what counts as bribery and treason, the former being defined in law and the latter being defined in the Constitution itself. High crimes and misdemeanors are another story. These terms are not defined either in law or the Constitution. What did the Founders have in mind?

Wikipedia opens it article on the subject this way:

The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct
peculiar to officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery,
intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming
conduct, and refusal to obey a lawful order. Offenses by officials also include
ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment
than for nonofficials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their
oaths of office.

It then notes this history of the term:

It was George Mason who offered up the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” as
one of the criteria to remove public officials who abuse their office. Their original
intentions can be gleaned by the phrases and words that were proposed before,
such as “high misdemeanor”, “maladministration”, or “other crime”. Edmund
Randolf said impeachment should be reserved for those who “misbehave”.
Cotesworth Pinkney said it should be reserved “…for those who behave amiss, or
betray their public trust.” As can be seen from all these references to “high crimes
and misdemeanors”, there is no concrete definition for the term, except to allow
people to remove an official from office for subjective reasons entirely.

It would appear that the Founders had in mind not only what we would call felonies, like perjury and income tax evasion, but also simple bad behavior. A look at the actual history of impeachment suggests that this is so. Impeachment charges have included such things as drunkenness on the bench, oppressive conduct, favoritism, improper business dealings, and sexual impropriety.

And so it is that the Founders, realizing human frailty being what it is, built a corrective measure into the structure of our government. In Part 2, I shall consider the contemporary relevance of all this.

To Break or To Break Open

The other day I was browsing through my library, wondering what novel to read next, and eye caught an 18-year old novel by Alice Walker, Now Is the Time To Open Your Heart. Though I had read it when it was first published, I had forgotten about it. It was the title that arrested my attention. It seemed to be of a piece with her volume of stories, The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart. I also thought of James Ford’s book on Zen, If You’re Lucky Your Heart Will Break.

Now, one usually thinks of a broken heart as something sad, something hard to bear, even devastating. But think about a river in Northern Canada, say the Yukon. In winter, it freezes completely shut. No water flows until spring. But in spring, the ice breaks open and the water flows again. Suppose we think about a broken heart, not as having shattered into shards, but as having broken open, like the Yukon in spring. Then what?

Walker’s book tells the parallel stories of Kate and her partner, Yolo, who find themselves stuck in their lives, each in their own way. Their hearts have become closed, frozen. Kate even had closed down her meditation practice, covering her Buddha statue with a cloth. A clear metaphor for her covering her Buddha-nature as if it were lost. Kate’s way back involves a pilgrimage into the Northwest Amazon jungle with a Native American shaman who guides her using a drug called, in Kechua, Ayahuasca. Yolo’s journey takes him to Hawaii and an unexpected encounter with a native Kuma, what we might call a spiritual guide.

There is much to learn in this book. Consider a few quotations:

  • …the magic of the mystery we’re in just goes on and on.
  • Being of one mind. That is peace. The material and the spiritual come together….
  • It will never work to think we are exempt from madness.
  • Healing cannot be done by settling a score.

But given the state of America at the moment, I found one passage to be especially striking. Kate’s group of pilgrims are talking about powerful people. Armando, the shaman, says this:

“A person is visible only when it is possible to perceive what sustains him….

“The more powerful the powerful appear the more invisible they become…. This used to work differently than now. In the old days it was said that the powerful merged with the divine and the divine was all that one saw. But now the powerful have merged with the shadow, really with death, and when you encounter them they are really hard to see….”

I read that and sat back thinking about the current state of American politics. Of course Trump became the icon. We see him all over the place, but who really sees Donald Trump, the human being? Where is he? All I ever see is the shadow of a person, a mere shell where a person might once have dwelt but is no more. Surely he was not born this way. No baby is. So when did Donald Trump die?

I thought of a recent photo of him boarding Air Force One with Barron, his young son. It is raining, and Trump is walking ahead of his son, holding an umbrella over himself and leaving Barron to walk up the stairs alone and in the rain. Trump’s body was there, but he was invisible, a mere shadow.

A couple of paragraphs later, Armando offers his opinion about what could cure this invisibility of the powerful:

“In my opinion…the only medicine that cures invisibility in the powerful is tears.”

I don’t think he means the tears of the eyes, or perhaps not those tears alone. I think he means tears of the heart, tears of the soul. I think he means that the only way a person like Trump can be reborn as a human being is to grieve his earlier death. But that grief requires the recognition that one has died. I do not think Trump realizes he has died.

I can imagine him alone at night, lonely and isolated and depressed, desperately wanting to be loved and admired but knowing he is not. I can even imagine him crying into his pillow without a clue why is soul aches. I wonder whether one reason he hates Obama so much is that he realizes Obama is invisible in the old way.

Then I remember the closing lines from Walker’s other book: “The world is not healed in the abstract. Healing begins where the wound was made.” Who will show Trump where that deep wound was made, where he died? Who will break open the ice within his heart?