High above a gorge in the Malaga region of Spain, locals and visitors may traverse a swaying walkway from one cliff to another, looking down upon a 325-foot drop. As we navigate the passage between 2019 and the new year of 2020, it feels as if we are stepping gingerly, as we would on the bridge in Malaga, and hoping that we can make it across the walkway without losing our footing — and our democracy.
We need, as a nation, to pay better attention to what’s going on. That is key to assuring the stability of our 240-year experiment in democratic rule. Terms such as “the Rule of Law,” and “separation of powers,” and “checks and balances” have simply got to be appreciated and understood.
The U.S. Constitution assigns the president considerable powers as commander in chief of the military, maker of treaties and chief executive. It does not, however, protect the president when he withholds congressionally approved military aid to another country, Ukraine, for the sake of forcing that nation’s president to smear a rival, former VP Joe Biden, in order for the aid to be released.
Behind us on the 2019 side of our imagined gorge we see the forever-inked-in impression of the two articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump: 1) abuse of power, 2) obstruction of Congress.
Looking ahead where the swaying bridge tips us onto terra firma on the 2020 side, we try to perceive, through the fog, the emerging contours of the trial in the U.S. Senate to determine whether Trump can remain in office, or will be put out on Pennsylvania Avenue, never to return.
Currently, however, with tempestuous political winds howling in our ears, here we are balancing precariously on the swaying bridge between two pivotal years in American history. Can we hold on? Can we navigate the passage?
This much is clear: Compelling evidence has shown that Trump did indeed withhold $381 million of military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an announcement by President Volodymyr Zalensky that his people were investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter for possible irregularities connected with the younger Biden’s serving on the board of the Burisma natural gas company.
Trump was asking not so much for the investigation itself, but for the mere announcement that a probe was under way.
Such an announcement was actually scheduled to be aired. Then Trump’s scheme came to light, and he belatedly released some, but not all, of the aid to Ukraine.
Nine witnesses who had knowledge of the quid pro quo deal Trump was pitching testified before the U.S. House.
The “arms for dirt” deal Trump sought constitutes, in the framing by House Democrats, the abuse of power impeachment charge. House Republicans barely contested the veracity of the allegations against Trump.
The obstruction of Congress article recounts how Trump has systematically attempted to block current and even former White House aides and also State and Justice Department officials from testifying in the impeachment hearings.
And the Senate trial? Up in the air, high over the gorge. Rules, witnesses or no witnesses, a real trial or a sham to suit Trump’s GOP defenders? It’s all still to be seen — as we wait in the fog.