The American people and the human race are facing profound moral and spiritual crises -- so profound that they shake our political systems and take the form of a Constitutional crisis. They force us to face the meaning of government, law, and democracy. In US history, a similar crisis led to the most important and consequential effort to impeach and remove a President of the United States –- an effort that failed. Today a profound moral and spiritual crisis – in some ways rooted in that historic failure -- has brought us to the same moment.
In this essay (in two parts) I will sketch the history and ethics that lead me to this belief, and then will end by suggesting the actions that this crisis calls forth.
What we call “politics” and “constitutions” embody the spirituality of a whole society, even the whole human community. Sometimes it is a demonic spirituality, as in Hitler’s Germany. Sometimes it is a sacred spirituality, as in the three Constitutional Amendments after the Civil War that outlawed slavery and attempted to end racial inequality in the US.
IMPEACHMENT IN 1867
Those Amendments tried to create what would have been a Second Constitution of the United States. They emerged from a moral and spiritual effort to end the original sin – notice the “spiritual” word -- of slavery and racism in the original US Constitution and social system, and to bring about real racial equality. For almost a century, they mostly failed. Not till the grass-roots upheaval of the Black-led freedom movement in the 1960s did the courts give some of those amendments reality.
The first sign of that century of failure came in a failed effort to use the impeachment provisions of the Constitution to remove from office President Andrew Johnson. The House of Representatives in 1867 brought charges of “high crimes and misdemeanors” against him. By a single vote, the Senate failed to remove him.
The House had impeached Johnson for (a) firing an activist Secretary of War, appointed by President Lincoln, who was ready to have the US Army ensure racial equality in the South, and (b) claiming that the postwar Constitutional Amendments ending slavery and seeking to establish racial equality were null and void because the rebellious Confederate states had not yet been readmitted to their seats in Congress (where they could have opposed the Amendments).
The impeachment of Johnson was a moral and spiritual effort to advance human freedom and heal America from racism and racist terrorism. It failed. Had the Senate removed Johnson, much of American history would probably have been very different.
Today we are faced with a similar moral and spiritual issue in regard to the Impeachment of Donald Trump. Let me draw on the language of the Declaration of Independence to describe our situation:
"The history of the present President is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of a Tyranny" over the American people -- . throttling American democracy, subjugating numerous elements of American society, and enshrining cruelty as public policy. "To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world:"
- He violated the American commitment to religious freedom by denying the whole community of Muslims entry to the US, as if they were all terrorists;
- He not only slandered Immigrants and refugees as rapists and murderers but tormented and traumatized them by yanking children from their parents’ arms, with no arrangements even to preserve ID so as later to reunite the shattered families; and he draconically slashed the numbers of refugees even to be considered for asylum from rampant rape and murder in their home countries;
- He defunded the most effective organization for assuring the health of low-income women;
- His rhetoric incited mass murders of Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and Muslims;-- to take but one example, his affirming ”fine people” among those who draped themselves in the Swastika and the Battle Flag of Slavery and used violence culminating in murder.
- He has bullied the free press.
- He canceled an extraordinarily successful multinational diplomatic arrangement to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapons-armory, and then cruelly imposed a draconic sanction system to punish the Iranian people for his betrayal of them.
- He assisted a literally murderous Saudi prince to carry on a genocidal war against the people of Yemen, despite Congressional opposition.
- Through a full-blown egomaniacal impulsiveness, he cruelly betrayed the Kurdish community that had taken the bloody brunt of the struggle to overcome ISIS, and was striving in Rojava (northern Syria) toward a life-giving form of democracy -- all to please a next-door semi-genocidal tyrant.
Even though the President and his associate perpetrators have claimed that each of these specific acts is legal for a President to do, the actions add up to a deliberate attack on the American people and American democracy. Each is and together they all are “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Moreover, on three occasions, he directly violated the Constitution:
- He violated the clearest and – in preventing monarchy or dictatorship -- perhaps most important clause of the Constitution: Article I, Section 9: "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law." Like Julius Caesar when he led his army across the Rubicon River to over-awe the Roman Senate and destroy the Roman Republic, Trump “crossed the Rubicon” and shattered the Constitution when he “drew money from the Treasury” to build his “wall” despite repeated refusals by Congress to appropriate money for it.
- He urged a foreign power to intervene in the next presidential election to smear a rival to his own reelection.
- He has explicitly and repeatedly repudiated and violated the Constitutional authority and obligation of Congress to investigate actions of his Administration.
These presidential desolations should each be made the grounds for its own Article of Impeachment, all in support of the one basic “High Crime and Misdemeanor” that has been committed again and again by Mr. Trump. That High Crime has been his consistent use of arrogance and cruelty to try to subjugate and shatter all independent energies that affirm and embody American democracy.
And in my Shalom Report tomorrow, we will examine the “High Crime and Misdemeanor” that this President has committed, is committing, not only against American democracy but against the human race and life on Planet Earth. And we will propose what actions we must take.
May blessings of Truth, Justice, and Shalom lift us in the work we now must do, Arthur