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The Moral Argument For Impeachment


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- Susan Thistlethwaite | HuffPost
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The political grounds for launching an impeachment investigation of Donald Trump are increasingly clear, as Laurence Tribe, university professor and Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, argues.

This constitutional remedy becomes necessary, Professor Tribe contends, when an executive-branch official has “so abused power” that it amounts to “high crimes and misdemeanors” and thus they cannot be trusted to continue in office.

There are two absolutely essential moral arguments in this description of the purpose of impeachment: one is the abuse of power and the other is trust.

I have repeatedly argued that trust is one of the foundations of religion. Religion often begins with a search for an answer to the heart-felt question, “What can I trust?” Different religions and humanism, of course, answer this question in different ways. But the question is profoundly important for a sense of relational security that makes human life in a community even possible.

Trust as a norm in the United States is collapsing right before our eyes.

Americans no longer trust Donald Trump. According to a recent Gallup Poll, only 45% of Americans think Trump “keeps his promises” and only a staggeringly low 36% think he is “honest and trustworthy.”

USAToday just ran this headline: Analysis: Donald Trump has biggest credibility gap of any president since Nixon.

The “credibility gap” has persisted since Nixon, with some periodic improvement, but it is clear trust is eroding daily in the Trump era.

As someone who lived through the Nixon and post-Nixon era as a pastor and seminary professor, I can tell you that “trust” was a casualty of that terrible period. People lost trust not only in government institutions, but also in religious institutions and, in my experience, lost trust in one another and in God.

The “credibility gap” has persisted since Nixon, with some periodic improvement, but it is clear trust is eroding daily in the Trump era. From the gaping holes and distortions in White House briefings, now the subject of a kind of national gallows humor, to the White House’s conflicting excuses on the firing of James Comey as FBI Director, to the immediate press and public questioning of H. R. McMasters’s non-denial denial in the case of an alleged leak by Trump of classified information to Russian visitors in the Oval Office.

Nobody seems to believe anything that comes out of this White House.

This profound distrust is bleeding into the rest of our political life, but it is also bleeding into our religious lives. The Pew Research Center has been documenting the decline in faith in God in recent years, due, in part, to religious hypocrisy. This is likely to get far worse as conservative Christianity is still roundly supporting Trump.

Now, a healthy skepticism is, in my view, very helpful for a mature faith. But I do not think the widespread distrust in our society is healthy. When your stock response to national leaders, local leaders or even to a neighbor or fellow parishioner is a cynical “Oh yeah?” it is clear Americans don’t trust each other.

Another moral catastrophe of the Trump era is the abuse of power. In fact, I have argued that Trump’s political philosophy is based on the dynamics of abuse.

The constant abuse of power requires that we either submit to it, in the vain hope of avoiding further abuse, or we resist.

Submission and dependence are learned from repeated abuses of power. The paralyzing ‘well, there’s nothing we can do about it’ leads to the loss of independent thought and action and an erosion of trust even in both religious and democratic institutions.

Resistance is therefore a profoundly moral act in these times. Through resistance, people learn that they do not have to submit to this abuse and a community-in-action can be built. This does not mean the divisions of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion or national origin magically disappear. What it can mean is that trust might be rebuilt over time through effective concerted action.

Starting an impeachment investigation is therefore a moral imperative, in my view, as it will help to rebuild trust in the very mechanisms of democracy that are being weakened by the Trump administration according to a recent statement (May 14, 2017) by former director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr.

Will impeaching Donald Trump alone fix the raging distrust and gross abuse of power that now characterize the United States?

No. It’s just a start. But a necessary one.

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