Uniting and Healing

In his inaugural address, Pres. Biden uttered the words ‘unity’ and ‘uniting’ a total of 11 times, and the word ‘heal’ or some form of it three times.  So, it’s pretty clear, as virtually every newspaper front page headline confirmed, that the overall message was that our new president wants to heal and unite a country that sorely needs both.

But, as we’ve all been told, there’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.  It’s one thing to say, with undoubted sincerity, that you want to work towards healing and uniting the nation, but it’s a very different thing to take real, positive steps toward that goal.  Is there anything Pres. Biden can do, beyond giving voice to hopes and wishes, that would bring those hopes and wishes closer to reality?

A few seconds thought (it truly is a ‘no-brainer’) confirms that the single most significant step the new president could take would be to publicly announce that, in his opinion, the nation would be best served if the House of Representatives never transmitted to the Senate the article impeaching former Pres. Trump, thus forestalling a trial on that article.  And, even as he stated that opinion, Pres. Biden could also opine that it would be appropriate for both Houses of Congress to pass a joint resolution condemning former Pres. Trump’s part in the events leading up to and culminating in the insurrectionary assault on the Capitol.

Nothing Pres. Biden could realistically do would demonstrate more vividly to the 74-million Americans who voted for Trump that the new administration is truly willing to take positive steps toward unity and healing.

It is of course true that the entire impeachment process unfolds in the legislative branch of America’s federal government.  The House of Representatives adopts, by a majority vote, article(s) of impeachment; then it conveys those article(s) to the Senate; and then the Senate holds a trial and, with a vote of two-thirds of the Senators, can convict.  As the head of the executive branch, the president plays no role.

But Pres. Biden, like every other person in the United States, is entirely free to express his own opinion about the wisdom and utility of proceeding with impeachment.  Neither Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who will decide if and when the article of impeachment is conveyed to the Senate, nor any Senator who might vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump, would be required to agree with or follow Pres. Biden’s advice.  But that advice would certainly carry great weight with Speaker Pelosi and Democratic Senators.

On the most left/progressive wing of the Democratic party, such a recommendation by Pres. Biden would surely generate anger.  There would be substantial push-back on the grounds that Trump had incited an attack on our democracy.  But if healing is to take place, it certainly must begin with those who are closer to the center of the political spectrum; people at the far ends, either far right or far left, will always be least likely to move to common ground.

Moreover, if it is claimed that Trump was actually guilty of criminal incitement—which, as a technical legal matter, is highly unlikely; Trump urged his audience to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard”—then, whether or not impeachment proceeds, the criminal justice system could prosecute the ex-president for that specific crime.  In this context, it should be remembered that Trump did not purport to pardon himself before leaving office.

Early indications as to whether the new president will request that impeachment be halted are not particularly encouraging.  The new administration’s first press conference included questions about whether Pres. Biden wants impeachment to go forward, and those questions were answered with this: “He’s going to leave the mechanics, the timing and the specifics of how Congress moves forward on impeachment to them.”  This seemingly suggest that Pres. Biden, at least for now, has no intention of requesting that the Congress definitively halt impeachment proceedings.

If the new president never speaks out and impeachment goes ahead, I believe a proverbially golden opportunity will have been lost.  It’s one thing to say—repeatedly—that you want to bring unity and healing to the nation.  It’s a very different thing to take specific, positive steps toward attaining those ends.  Of course, some Democratic party members will be unhappy but, in presiding over a government for 330 million citizens, it’s literally impossible to take an action that won’t make someone unhappy.

Pres. Biden ought to step up, speak out, and let the nation know that, in his view, impeachment proceedings should end.  That’s the best way to begin the healing and uniting he says he wants.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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