In a new test of America’s system of checks and balances, the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump on Dec. 18, 2019.
Unlike previous impeachment initiatives in Congress’ history, this inquiry and investigation did not align with a vital democratic norm that has assured a peaceful system of checks and balances in the past: bipartisanship. The modern impeachment proceedings progressed through the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees along strict party lines. Although impeachment is an inherently political practice, the polarization of this year’s process is unprecedented and has undoubtedly weakened America’s system of checks and balances.
With a dominating view that the motives behind the impeachment—and the opposition to it— are purely political, congressional leadership has made it clear that the foundation of President Trump’s impeachment has broken from the standards of past impeachments. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shared his thoughts with reporters on Tuesday: “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There’s nothing judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision … The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I’m not impartial about this at all.”
This is not what the founders intended, nor is it what our nation survived in 1974 and 1998. Bipartisanship is an essential element of honorable, civil and trustworthy inter-branch oversight within American democracy. The polarizing proceedings and outcome of the House’s impeachment of President Trump have threatened the legitimacy of the process at its core and further weakened America’s trust in Congress’ ability to govern in accordance with the law and without prejudice.
Our republic deserves better.
Senators should overcome the polarizing weaknesses of their peers in the House and take on the impeachment trial with dedication and loyalty to the processes they took an oath (Rule XXV of the Senate Rules in Impeachment Trials) to defend. They also ought to reestablish decorum, civility and legitimacy in the process; and evaluate the case before them impartially, regardless of how political the process was conducted prior to the trial. Should the Senate decline to conduct itself in a fair and dispassionate manner, its members will further erode vital democratic norms.