When Congressman Brad Sherman proposed the first article of impeachment against President Donald Trump, the California Democrat carefully explained the necessity of the resolution, the legislative strategy he would employ to advance it, and the difficult political landscape that would have to be traversed in order to hold to account the most irresponsible and lawless President in American history.
"I act not for partisan advantage. Having served with [Vice President] Mike Pence in the House for twelve years, I disagree with him on most issues of public policy," Sherman explained in June, acknowledging Democratic discomfort with Trump's likely successor, were the President to be removed from office. "But we must move forward as quickly as possible to ensure a competent government that respects the Constitution and the rule of law."
Those were the urgent, yet carefully considered, words of a lawmaker who had determined to bear true faith and allegiance to an oath of office that requires him to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic." He was not engaging in the partisan maneuvers that so frequently characterize Congressional action (or inaction). The Congressman was taking on an awesome responsibility with the seriousness of purpose that the founders intended when they established a Constitutional remedy for the crisis that arises when a President dishonors his position and threatens the republic.
Sherman recognized, as many have, that Trump must be impeached. He acted as an elected representative of the people must when the need for a Constitutional cure can no longer be neglected by those with the power to apply it.
Unfortunately, on a contemporary political landscape that is defined by the corruptions of partisanship, and the cynicism that develops when those corruptions go unaddressed for too long, Sherman's seriousness put him at odds with the media and political elites who shape the discourse of our country. He was treated as an outlier, admonished in private by colleagues, and dismissed in public by commentators who are far more inclined to propagate talking-head trivia than to explore the original intent of the U.S. Constitution. Most Americans, even those who favor the removal of Donald John Trump from office, were unaware of what Sherman had done.
But there is no question that Sherman, a Harvard Law School graduate and instructor with two decades of experience in Congress, did everything right. He outlined his objection to the Trump presidency not in broad or emotional terms, but with a sharp focus on concerns about obstructions of justice and abuses of power.
Chief among these was Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, in what Trump would tell Russian diplomats was an effort to relieve the "pressure" of FBI inquiries into links between the President's campaign team and the Russians. (In the same week that Sherman unveiled his article of impeachment, Trump appeared to acknowledge reports that Robert Mueller III, the special counsel in the Russia probe, had expanded his investigation to consider these obstructions of justice.)
In a well-ordered and well-functioning media system, the announcement by a senior lawmaker that an article of impeachment had been written and submitted for consideration would have led the evening news and topped the front pages of morning papers.
But decades of consolidation, conglomeration, and bumbling responses to technological progress have left the United States without a democracy-sustaining media system. Major media outlets are not merely disinclined to speak truth to power; frequently they serve as stenographers to power. And power maintains an at best unsteady acquaintance with Constitutional remedies, especially when they involve accountability. For the most part, political and media elites dismiss impeachment in particular, and the system of checks and balances in general, as a distraction.
They prefer to obsess about Trump's tweets, palace intrigues that pit the white nationalist and Wall Street wings of the current administration against each other, and Ivanka Trump's complaints about the supposed incivility that is directed toward a man who encouraged his supporters to harass protesters and to chant "lock her up" at the...