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Ann Skeet is the senior director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center of Applied Ethics. Views are her own.
Plenty of political pundits are asking versions of two questions following the release of the redacted Mueller report. “What should the Republicans do?” And, “What should the Democrats do?” The apolitical answer to this question should be, “the same thing.”
Pursuing impeachment, a process akin to an indictment in legal proceedings, presents challenges for each political party. Republicans have a president who has delivered on at least some of his campaign promises, with spillover credibility effects for other Republicans. Democrats are concerned that pursuing impeachment will stir up Trump’s base as we are gearing up for the 2020 election.
Candidates in the election are also getting into the mix. Bernie Sanders suggests that the appropriate course of action is the one that ensures Trump is not in office in 2020 and is thus, against pursuing impeachment now as the outcomes are uncertain.
But what is certain is that Bernie Sanders is also Senator Sanders and he has an oath to uphold, regardless of political fallout. Republicans and Democrats take the same oath when they join Congress, to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, as does the president. If Senator Sanders cannot honestly uphold that oath, he might consider resigning and focusing solely on running for president.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This preamble offers a sense of what the North Star should be for elected officials in the federal government. I have written before that it serves as a mission statement for our country and provides valuable guidance. Enlightened congressional members can identify that this constitution is shared between them and the American people as its roadmap, and can be converted into a framework for ethical-decision making. These are the questions such a preamble provokes:
- Does this option of impeachment offer justice, the opportunity to treat people fairly? Is it fair, treating equally or proportionately?
- Does this option ensure domestic tranquility? Does it keep the peace?
- Does this option provide for the common defense — keeping our country safe from attack?
- Does this option promote the general welfare — the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group?
- Does this option secure the blessings of liberty — a freedom from oppressive restrictions for people now and in the future?
Responses to these questions point to impeachment. With a sitting president vowing to fight Congress at every step of the way, it’s hard to argue that he is pursuing justice, opening a door for Congress to pursue more information. Only with additional information can we be sure that the United States can defend itself from attack — including the cyberattacks we are starting to understand as a form of evolved warfare. To fully defend our country, providing the best possible chance for peace and protection of our liberty from oppression, Americans need to know more.
Impeachment proceedings are also supported by the Markkula Center’s framework for ethical decision-making.
- Which option produces the most good or does the least harm?
- Which protects the rights of all who have a stake?
- Which treats people equally or proportionately?
- Which best serves the community as a whole?
- Which leads me to act as the sort of person I want to be?
Side-stepping the first question — accepting that Republicans and Democrats do not have a shared vision of what is good or does the least harm — responses to the rest of the questions tilt towards impeachment. Even though the politically savvy move may be to avoid impeachment, it leaves someone in office, unchecked, who may have committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Elected officials don’t vow to follow the constitution just when it is politically expedient to do so.
Opening the process of impeachment does protect the rights of all who have a stake. It also treats people equally and proportionately, asking the president to allow his decisions and actions to be questioned just as others are under our legal system. Impeachment serves the community as a whole by offering transparency that can reveal what has or has not happened. Impeachment offers the opportunity to reset standards of individual virtue in elected officials.
For President Trump to receive the true exoneration he seeks, the impeachment process would provide a systematic and public forum for carefully vetting issues raised in the Mueller Report. Senators and congressmen and women need to put the interests they have vowed to serve first ahead of political aspirations for either party — those of the citizens of the United States.