Vladimir Putin is not a Facebook friend of mine – that I know of, anyway. He could be, perhaps registered under an alias put out by the Moscow Troll Department, but to my knowledge, I didn’t send a “Happy birthday to Vlad” greeting to mark the Russian president’s 67th. Nor did Donald Trump send his good wishes, at least not on Facebook, even though Mr. Putin seemingly had a lot to do with his being the American president in the first place.
But he didn’t really have to mark the occasion. For Putin, Trump has been the gift who keeps on giving by tattering the United States of America and its already frayed tapestry of democracy. The U.S. political system is supposed to be an intricate knit of balancing powers that are woven into the legislative, executive and judicial branches of federal government, as any high school student is taught.
Apparently, Trump missed class that day, or he simply chooses to ignore it. The timid Democrats, who assumed majority control of the House of Representatives this year, finally decided to use their power of impeachment to try to end the nation’s embarrassment. That congressional power was carefully spelled out by our founders in Article 2 of the Constitution: “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Notice the word “shall,” meaning that Congress has the absolute ability to exercise the impeachment and removal functions. Right now, the House is playing its role, looking into alleged wrongdoing by this president (the “alleged” descriptor is inserted in an abundance of fairness). Ultimately, when the investigation is complete, members will vote whether to impeach Trump, which would be roughly equivalent to an indictment.
But the Trump administration has taken a Constitution-be-damned approach. After coming up with a variety of reasons not to turn over information and provide witnesses even under subpoena, Donald Trump, through his lawyers, has declared the administration will not cooperate with the exercise, but offered no real legal justification for defying the House Democrats and, by the way, the Constitution.
Back in high school civics we learned that the founders designed the balance of power to allow each branch to curb the others’ excesses. It’s a fundamental part of this delicate democracy of ours. But for it to work properly, it requires the good faith of all involved. That is the nation’s fundamental weakness. There are always opportunists who will take advantage and stretch our inherent freedoms to exploit our various institutions.
In this case, you have a president who routinely ignores constraints on his behavior, particularly when he’s impulsive, which he usually is. That’s what has gotten us to the point of impeachment. It would seem the Democrats have an open-and-shut case, but they are tediously exploring whether there’s a lot more “there” there. Trump’s political friends, the Republicans, have been intimidated into going through hoops to support him, in fear of his jeopardizing their political careers. From afar, Vladimir Putin is certainly relishing the spectacle, while making plans to keep Trump in office for four more years.
The Democrats will have to show that they’re a match for Trump and Putin. So far, they’re not.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2019 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.