By the time you read my column this week — if you read it — we will be involved in another first for our beloved country — the trial in the Senate of former President Donald Trump following his second impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Added to this shameful moment are the threats to our sense of civilization from our enemies — this time not only foreign (always a potential need for concern) but also domestic enemies who have now moved to the forefront.
I was first taught American government as a 15-year-old student at Woodward High School in Toledo by Camilla Savage, an outstanding faculty member. We not only studied the text and current events (I take the weekly current events quiz in the Dayton Daily News) but also the Preamble to the Constitution, the Constitution, and the Amendments to the Constitution. When possible, we connected current events to those important documents.
Later at the University of Toledo, I continued to study American government and history and earned certification to teach these subjects, in addition to English and biology, in Ohio’s secondary schools. I added to these credentials by taking graduate courses in social and intellectual American history at Eastern Kentucky State University.
Am I an expert? No. Am I am attorney specializing in First Amendment rights and all things related to impeachment? No. Am I a Harvard or Yale graduate? No. I did, however, attend Harvard one summer to renew my understanding of our responsibility as Americans to our college and university students- a lesson that continues to resonate with me in multiple ways 25 years later.
So as we approach this new, never-before-experienced incident in American history, what of my lessons in American history and government are a part of my very being and perhaps yours as well?
(1) No American is above the law. That’s one of the reasons we fought the war for independence against Great Britain.
(2) Our government was established with three branches: executive, legislative, judicial in order to have a system of checks-and-balances. Respect for these is critical.
(3) Our military and our Congresspersons swear allegiance to America and to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Our president swears the same in his oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
(4) America is an experiment, always in the process of becoming, and as such is fragile. At times we make mistakes and we pass Federal laws which we rescind when we learn they are no longer valid.
(5) We have 50 states, and they pass laws that do not conflict with Federal laws. When there is conflict, we have processes for adjudicating them. Among those laws is the responsibility for having fair elections, regardless of the political party of the governor at the time of an election.
(6) Our votes as citizens are precious, to be valued. Attempts to suppress them should be met with counter measures. We’ve not always had universal suffrage, and our history is rife, even very recently, with attempts to suppress the voting rights of certain groups.
(7) First Amendment rights to free speech have limitations. The usual example is that it is illegal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. Some of the shouts I heard on Jan. 6, 2021, and in the videos I’ve watched later of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, are an extension of this example of when First Amendment rights do no protect speech such as threats to hang then Vice President Pence with a scaffold at the ready outside the building. Americans can embrace any political ideology however weird, illogical or disturbing it seems to others. Their First Amendment protection expires when they go beyond their beliefs to wreak havoc.
The Statue of Liberty will always have a special meaning to me as I sculpted her in a high school art class after my first visit to New York City as a 16-year-old, courtesy of the Toledo Council on World Affairs. This gift of France and my study of the work of the United Nations, were reinforced by Miss Savage’s messages that the world is large, that the U.S. is only a part of the world, important to be sure, and that as students we should see beyond our Toledo neighborhoods.
In closing, I have a few questions:
· How many days will the Senate waste in addressing the impeachment issue when that time could be better spent in addressing the myriad issues our country faces such as COVID relief packages, the economic and human impact of the virus, pollution, crumbling infrastructures, immigration problems? Will any votes change as a result of a trial? Do most Americans want Donald Trump to be tried?
· Will the votes be impacted by the condition of Capitol law enforcement as they continue to deal with the death of one of their own and the physical and emotional trauma they continue to suffer as a result of that day? What about Capitol staffers? Will their testimonies, if they are called, have an impact? What kind?
· Will those voting consider that on Jan. 6, 2021, brown and black members of Congress could not disguise themselves by mixing with white members and could have been beaten or perhaps murdered by some insurrectionists had they been able to locate these elected personnel in their hiding places? Some rioters indicated they were seeking Nancy Pelosi. What if they had found her?
· How do you account for the delay when it was obvious that Capitol law enforcement was overrun, when the crowd became insurrectionists as we watched in real time and President Trump did not tell the rioters to go home until much later? Why didn’t he call in support to protect our lawmakers and their staffs quickly?
A little history: On Dec. 8, 1941, after Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor (My mother’s brother, a pilot, was there and survived) the vote to go to war was 82 to 0 in the Senate and 388 to 1 in the House with Montana Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin as the sole dissenter who said, “I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Will those voting in the next few days, weeks, or months realize that they were in the middle of a war for the very democracy many of us love on Jan. 6, 2021?
Are you among those who maintain that now that Donald Trump is not in office that it’s time to kiss and make up and that impeachment at this time is no longer legal? What about the concept of legal redress, justice?
For one minute, consider what you would consider justice if a similar incident had happened at your school; at your city, county, or state government offices; at your place of work?