The events of the past week in the United States of America have rightly caused great angst among everyone as to whether America can recover from the depth of the polarization that exists there today. Regardless of the cause of what occurred, regardless of who was responsible for causing it (and it was not just one person), regardless of the desire of so many people to place blame ad execute judgement, this is the time to heal and not to exact vengeance.
I understand the logic of wanting to hold people accountable. That is as much a part of the essence of democracy as are free elections. Nevertheless, there are times in history when those in charge need to look beyond their gut feelings, rise to the occasion and do what’s best for the country rather than what will comfort their wounded psyches.
For sure, it would be great if the President would resign, that would be the responsible thing to do. Nevertheless, everyone with a brain knows that will not happen. There is also a movement afoot by some members of Congress to move to impeach the president. I understand it, but that, too, would be a mistake. After all, the Democrats in Congress who are pushing for this run the risk of being, in the words of Shakespeare, “hoisted by their own petard.”
Should the Congress proceed with impeachment on the basis that the President’s words incited the siege on the capitol, what will happen? Conservatives will point to Democrat legislators like Maxine Waters asking her supporters to confront Republicans in restaurants, while Ayanna Pressley insisted amidst the violent marches last year that “there needs to be unrest in the streets,” and Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris said “protesters should not let up” even as some of those marches turned violent. They can legitimately argue their rhetoric was not meant to be a call for violence, but this standard is filled with subjectivity.
Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, opined last week that: “The damage caused by the rioters this week was enormous, however, it will pale in comparison to the damage from a new precedent of a snap impeachment for speech protected under the First Amendment. It is the very threat that the framers sought to avoid in crafting the impeachment standard. In a process of deliberative judgment, the reference to a snap impeachment is a contradiction. In this new system, guilt is not doubted and innocence is not deliberated. This would do to the Constitution what the violent rioters did to the Capitol and leave it in tatters.”
In little more than a week, the Democrats will take control of the White House and both houses of Congress. Their job now and President-Elect Bien’s as well, is to abandon the desire for vengeance and use the awesome responsibility for the fate of the nation that the electorate has given them to bring the nation together. To do that they will need to reach across the aisle to people who distrust them, they will need to demonstrate that they have the intelligence, compassion and commitment to be the adults in the room and look beyond personal grievances. To do that they will need to dismiss all attempts to exact vengeance with their newfound power. That will be the test of their leadership and failure to provide that kind of leadership could very well doom the American democratic experience to the dustbin of history.
For those who ask what of accountability there is an answer. Fortunately, the framers of the Constitution provided a vehicle for that as well by establishing a third, and equal, branch of government, the judiciary. The new Attorney General-designate, who should rightfully be sitting as a member of the Supreme Court, has a stellar reputation as a judge of impeccable knowledge and integrity. The Congress should leave it to the judiciary that has already proven its mettle during these months since the election, to do their job. A little bit of patience here can be very useful when it comes to practical political management.
The oft-quoted words of God found in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is mine” is worth remembering here. While there are many interpretations, the most meaningful one in this instance is to understand that we, as human beings, have no benefit from exacting vengeance. In a word, that is the easy way out. The painful route, the challenging route, the most difficult route is to understand that healing can only occur when vengeance and retribution is taken off the table. The Democratic leadership, which takes control on January 20, would do well to bide its time and not create additional enemies that will make it even more difficult for the nation to heal. That is their job right now and the leader of the pack, that is the President-Elect, should be insisting that this be so, no matter how difficult it might be to look beyond the anger and the damage of the last few years. Let us hope he and his team are up to the task.