Is The U.S. Constitution Worth The Paper It's Written On?
Written By: Anton Sawyer
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Is The U.S. Constitution Worth The Paper It's Written On?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for those of you who wanted to see ex-President Trump skewered and burned in effigy for the January 6th insurrection at the US capital and were disappointed at the outcome; his acquittal is the prime example showing that the Constitution is working EXACTLY as it's supposed to ... for the late 18th Century.
If you are a consistent reader of the site, you already know that I love the First Amendment pertaining to the Freedom of Speech clause. I absolutely loathe the thought of anyone's words being stifled for some kind of perceived moral reactions those words can generate by someone else. But having worked previously for the Republican National Committee, and knowing what is being told to their millions of supporters, Trump knew exactly what he was doing; sadly, the results went as planned.
The speech he gave was so filled with hyperbolic sentiments that it was exactly the match that lit the fuse. The Democrats knew this, the Republicans knew this, but as we have seen so many times in Washington, the truth is nothing more than a pawn in a game of chicken.
The Dems went immediately to impeachment for causing the insurrection. Their leadership spoke to Republican leadership and was told that they could get the conservatives on board, so long as the articles of impeachment pertained to ONLY the insurrection. The Dems put together the articles in such a way as to allow conservatives to hop on board, while still saving face with their constituents. Once the trial started, you could see that the conservatives weren't going to do anything to alienate the pro-Trump portion of their base.
When watching the hearing, it was really interesting to see how prior legal precedent about the US and impeachment was utilized by both sides. Because there has never been a president brought up on impeachment charges so close to being out of office, the defense attorney framed his argument to be a jurisdictional one. Basically, Mr. Trump can't be charged because he doesn't have the office or title any longer. The prosecution made the point that just because he's out of office, doesn't mean a crime wasn't committed.
It would be like a person working for a corporation, embezzling from that company and then quitting, and the employer refusing to prosecute because the person who committed the crime isn't there anymore (effectively meaning the company would just take the loss). After listening to the arguments and witnessing the outcome, I realized that per the US Constitution, the acquittal was the only correct outcome.
Trust me, I do believe that Trump was utterly guilty when it came to lighting the powder keg, but because the US Constitution has not been treated in the way the founding fathers intended, there was very little chance he'd be found guilty.
What I mean by the Constitution not being treated in the way the founding fathers intended is this; they knew that morality, knowledge, technology, and other external factors would change as time progressed. They designed it in such a way that all people are to be held to the same accountability (no matter their station in life), along with the opening to ratify and expand. George Washington exemplified this sentiment when he said, "The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the Constitution, which at any time exists, ‘till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all."
When you look at the second Trump impeachment hearing, it's beyond evident that those who have any kind of serious power (i.e. the President and Congress) do not have to be held to the same standards as the common man.
First off, instead of having a judge preside over the events, that honor was given to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont who was also one of the jurors. I can promise you that there is no way on Earth that if the average Joe was being tried for a felony, that one of the jurors would also be the judge. This would NEVER happen.
Another huge difference between this court of law and literally every other court in the US was in the jury and presentation of the evidence. When the prosecutors were showing video evidence of their case, a number of conservative Senators like Marco Rubio (FL) and Tom Cotton (AR) didn't look up but maybe once or twice for a quick glimpse; some senators didn't look up at all. I cannot fathom a trial for a citizen where the judge would openly allow jurors to not pay any attention to the evidence presented—it would end in a mistrial. These are just two examples of how there is a clearly defined line between the "have's," and the "have nots."
As far as the outcome, it's not surprising either. Because in all of American history, we have never been in these situations before, the judges and jurors only have prior legal precedent to go by. As we saw earlier in his tenure, Trump was acquitted the first time because of a 1973 Justice Department memo claiming that a sitting president cannot have charges brought against them. Also, in a 2000 Office of Legal Counsel memo, there is a brief statement claiming that a sitting president should not be indicted even if all further proceedings are postponed. Taking this and combining it with the defense argument that the President cannot be impeached because they are out of office, with the fact that there were enough Republican votes to prevent the 2/3 majority, we get an acquittal. This also means that based on legal precedent, the President of the United States cannot be brought up on charges at all. Whether in office or not, they cannot be held accountable for illegal actions while in office. These precedents fly right in the face of what former President Washington said.
The entire reason the founding fathers put the possibility of impeachment into the Constitution was a way to prevent us from becoming a dictatorship where our political leaders can also be mob bosses. I know, that statement is a little over the top, but is it really?
Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of the constitution and the freedoms it allows us. Without it, I would not be able to write so critically about our politicians and political processes, and I never forget that. But clearly, there is plenty of wiggle room when it comes to equality. The founding fathers didn't want us to become a country where the ruling class can use their power for whatever nefarious means, and then be able to walk away scott-free. This is why we need to have another Constitutional Convention.
The founders of this nation were smart in making the constitution a "living document." That it can be ratified as needed to keep up with the times. However, because we now have almost 250 years' worth of cases to draw from, it has been so far removed from many of its core principles—unintentionally—that it needs more clarity and definitive statements to include this new world we live in. Also, imagine it for a minute: Both parties would have to come together and clearly define what their core is, and then find similarities with the other side to do what's best for everyone of all classes.
"Keep dreaming," I can hear the voices now. The thought of taking such vehemently opposite ends of the spectrum to come to a resolution sounds like an impossibility ... and you wouldn't be wrong. But, if enough citizens push the issue, if it becomes something of a nation-wide movement, then it would force their hands. It's like when you're in school and there's a kid in your class that you absolutely hate and your teacher pairs you up for some kind of project—either everyone wins, or you realize that the depths of your differences are such that there is no compromise. I see the former happening because when you have power, you want to keep it. I can't see ANY House member or Senator looking at their millions of constituents and saying, "Nope, sorry, can't be done," knowing full well if they don't get it done, they are out of office.
I know that this piece is kind of wishful thinking. I know that since we've only had one Convention in our history, it's not likely to be a repeat event. That a majority of people fear change, and this would be massive. It would reset and pin-point all of the legalities that have been mired in conjecture over the centuries. Two founding fathers warned us about this possibility taking place. Former President James Madison wrote, "It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow.” And former President Thomas Jefferson said, “The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”
Though I disagree with him most of the time, I do think Sean Hannity summed up the trial perfectly when he said, "With Trump's impeachment, there was already a pre-determined outcome." He's right. Until we are able to come together as a country, work with each other and completely clarify our central values as a nation into an updated document, every trial for those in power will have some kind of pre-determined outcome depending on which party has the control. Clinton experienced it in the 1990s, Trump experienced it twice. How many more have to occur before we correct these legal mistakes?
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