Category Archives: Later, in commentary

Obvious Truth

When I was in high school and even before, well over fifty years ago now, I understood that Black people (we innocently used the term “Negroes” back then) had—or should have—equal rights in America. I don’t remember being taught to believe that, but somehow during my childhood it had become for me an obvious truth.

Race was not a topic of conversation around our dinner table. Teachers didn’t talk much about racial equality that I remember, but the racially derogatory “n” word was in circulation in the hallways and on the playgrounds.

I remember stumbling over the meaning of the terms of the civil rights era: “integration” and “desegregation.” I didn’t comprehend the concepts around issues that were abstractions in my small world of White privilege. I believed I had no “problem” with Black people but likely that was because I saw so few Black people in my world. Of course, I was aware that Black people lived in another part of town, but I didn’t think to question why they weren’t next door.

The number of Blacks who were classmates of mine could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I suppose I believed it was their choice. If parents wanted to send their kids to my school, they were perfectly free to do so. I didn’t wonder why they didn’t—or couldn’t—make that choice.

I did not know then that my paternal and maternal grandparents had at one time entertained themselves with membership in the Ku Klux Klan. In the rural Midwest heartland where they lived, it was the thing to do in the mid-1920s, now a full century ago. My parents didn’t talk about that part of their past, and yet their transition to adulthood must have included rejection of their parents’ racial and anti-immigrant fears and prejudices.

In 1960, my parents took me and my brother to a sermon by Martin Luther King. I didn’t understand the sermon, but I knew this was an important occasion in my life, and I knew that King was a man whom I should respect. When, eight years later, he was assassinated, I experienced his murder as an American tragedy, as a terrible wrong committed by bad people motivated by racial hatred.

I also remember television images of white police in Birmingham using dogs and water cannons to terrorize civil rights demonstrators. That was in 1963. The March on Washington was that summer. I remember that my parents talked about the March, but they ultimately chose not to go. Were they afraid we might get injured? Arrested? Maybe making the arrangements to go was simply too much trouble. But maybe the thought of a gathering of so many Black people made them a little uncomfortable.

I don’t know what I believed about race in those days. I knew our nation had suffered a Civil War over slavery. I knew that Abe Lincoln was a great president because he freed the slaves and paid with his life, but “slaves” and “slavery” were terms of America’s past. The present I didn’t understand.

I believed that the cause of civil rights was a just cause and that those who carried the banner of civil rights were on the right side of history and would ultimately prevail. It was only a matter of time.

I was too naïve and too ignorant to focus on the issue of race. Besides, I became distracted by the Vietnam War, the 1967 Summer of Love and dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and the seductive wonders of marijuana and sex. I was hung up on myself, occupied with the process of separation from my parents, a process which I managed to make more difficult than it needed to be. It was difficult for me to work out what there was for me rebel against.

These fifty years have been a long time, but the years failed to erase the scars of the 60s. All the promise of that era remains unfulfilled—its “golden living dreams of visions” unreal.

The ideology of White supremacy remains with us in a multitude of forms, enabled by today’s so-called “social” media and fertilized by the doublespeak that America needs to be made “great again.” Democracy itself is under attack by people who fear racial justice while denying the truth of their own White privilege. It has come to this: that we should need a growing list of law enforcement Black homicides—that is, killings of unarmed Black people by police officers—to “awaken” us to the idea that Black lives matter.

It more than saddens me that my generation has not solved the problem of race prejudice. Why haven’t we done better in these fifty years? I think about the legacy we will leave and wonder if we might have one last chance to make a difference. Will racial injustices, revealed in a new light, be recognized and rejected so that our democracy can begin to repair the damage? Let racial equality become a more widespread obvious truth, and my generation can leave a more hopeful legacy.

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  • 46
    In the Senate last week, Mitch McConnell stood at the rostrum. He said in somber voice: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.” Further, “self-government, my colleagues, requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect…
  • 45
    Too many journalists and commentators have reported the end of the US military presence in Afghanistan through a filter of a prejudged partisan conclusion that the “way it was ended” has been “catastrophic,” “botched,” “embarrassing” and “incompetent.” Five C-17 transport planes left the airport just before midnight in Kabul on…
  • 40
    A week before the presidential debate, I said to a friend: “I am not sure you can ‘win’ a debate with a liar.” The atrocity that occurred on September 29 in Cleveland proved my point. Not only did the president predictably and automatically lie, distort and demean, he refused to…

The McConnell Doctrine

It is irritating to hear people say that a constitutional “technicality” allowed some senators to vote “not guilty.” Although most senators found the former president guilty of inciting an insurrection, the Senate vote came up short of the two thirds needed to convict.

The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, spoke on the Senate floor shortly after the vote. He agreed that the former president was “morally responsible for provoking the events” of January 6, when a blood-thirsty mob of hundreds broke into the Capitol bent on hanging Vice President Pence and shooting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

McConnell said that Trump had manufactured “an atmosphere of looming catastrophe” and had orchestrated a “growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole” that drove the mob to believe they were acting on his instructions. The erstwhile president had spun a web of lies about a stolen election, provoked the mob into a frenzy of anger, and directed them to wink-wink “walk” to the Capitol. He was responsible for the riot, the damage, the desecration, the bodily injuries, and the death that resulted.

Alas, McConnell’s hands were tied. The former president was beyond the Senate’s power to convict because he was no longer in office. McConnell believed that Trump was “morally responsible” but not “guilty.”

The now former president was “constitutionally not eligible for conviction,” and McConnell would not consider whether his “unconscionable” behavior violated the presidential oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Conviction, he said, was “insensible” because Article II, Section 4, “exhausts the set of persons who can legitimately be impeached, tried, or convicted.”

No doubt the other 42 senators who voted “not guilty” also rationalized their decisions based on the McConnell Doctrine of constitutional ineligibility.

This was not a technicality. To call it such would be to imply that it was a real thing, a correct reading of the Constitution. It is not. McConnell is clever and eloquent, but he is also wrong and deceitful. The men who wrote the Constitution did not include any language that could honestly be construed to incorporate the McConnell Doctrine.

Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” (Article I, Section 2). That power is not limited by an “eligibility” test.

Under Article I, Section 3, the Senate “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” There is no language to suggest that a president is “eligible” for trial and conviction only if still in office.

Where then does McConnell find his doctrine in the Constitution? He points to Article II, but he is off-base. Article II is about executive power, and Section 4 addresses removal from office. It circumscribes presidential power and stands for the fundamental principle that a president is not above the law.

The president “shall be removed from Office” if impeached (by the House) and convicted (by the Senate) of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Because the powers of impeachment and trial rest in the legislative branch under Article I, the legislative branch decides what conduct would count as a high crime.

Removal from office is mandatory under Section 4 when the president, the vice president or any “civil officer” of the United States is convicted of an impeachable offense. McConnell says that because Section 4 contains an “exhaustive” list of the grounds for impeachment it “therefore follows” that the list of persons in Section 4 is also “exhaustive.”  

But it does not “follow” and nothing in Section 4 suggests the McConnell Doctrine that only a sitting president, vice president or civil officer is eligible for trial and conviction. The list of persons in Article II, Section 4 is an “exhaustive” list of persons who must be removed from office upon conviction of an impeachable offense, but it is not “exhaustive” of the persons who may be convicted.  

It is obviously true that if the presidential term has expired, the former president has already left office and cannot “be removed.” It is nonsense to suggest that the Framers should have listed former presidents in Section 4 for the sake of exhaustiveness.

To address the situation that might occur if the president commits an impeachable offense while in office but has left office by the time of trial, the Constitution gives the Senate a further power under Article I, Section 4: “Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.” Although it is expressed as a limitation, this Constitutional provision gives the Senate the power to disqualify a guilty former president from holding office in the future.

The McConnell Doctrine rests solely on an imaginary constitutional provision. The Constitution does not say that a former president is “ineligible” for conviction of a high crime. There can be no doubt that it is a “high crime” to provoke a mob to attack Congress and interfere with the Congressional counting of electoral votes. The Constitution does not allow the president to commit the crime but pay no price.

The Framers would not have left the People with no remedy for a president who commits such a high crime and such a violation of the Constitution. The idea that the McConnell Doctrine is what the Framers intended would be immensely laughable if the consequences were not so serious and so dangerous. It is, to use McConnell’s words, “an absurd end result to which no one subscribes.”

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  • 78
    In the Senate last week, Mitch McConnell stood at the rostrum. He said in somber voice: “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral.” Further, “self-government, my colleagues, requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect…
  • 72
    On January 13, the House impeached Donald Trump again (he had been impeached before in 2019), this time finding that he “engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” He “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the…
  • 72
    A week before the presidential debate, I said to a friend: “I am not sure you can ‘win’ a debate with a liar.” The atrocity that occurred on September 29 in Cleveland proved my point. Not only did the president predictably and automatically lie, distort and demean, he refused to…