Two days after the Emmy awards, an annual ceremony to mark the year’s most arresting television, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would begin a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
The impeachment saga could make gripping television of its own. But diligence, not drama, should be the goal of members of Congress of both parties as they consider Trump’s dealings with the leader of the Ukraine.
Given Louisiana’s colorful history, we know perhaps more than most Americans about both the appeal and the peril of political theater. It can be engaging and even entertaining while it lasts, but ultimately, it diminishes public confidence in the institutions that rely on civic trust to succeed. That’s why the investigation of the president’s behavior should be driven by responsibility rather than ratings.
In a phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump urged Zelensky to collaborate with U.S. attorney William Barr and Rudolph Giuliani, a Trump political fixer, to investigate business dealings in Ukraine involving the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival. Critics charge that Trump used his authority over U.S. aid to Ukraine to pressure Zelensky to act.
If Pelosi believes Trump’s actions warrant an impeachment probe, she should ask for a House vote to approve such an inquiry. Every House member needs to be on the record when it comes to launching a matter of such constitutional gravity.
Luckily, this republic has few precedents in conducting impeachment proceedings. For those of us of a certain age, the mention of impeachment reflexively evokes memories of the Watergate hearings of 1973, aired at great length on national television back then. In retrospect, what’s striking about those hearings is how boring they often were. Occasional flashes of revelation emerged from detailed, thoughtful, low-key lines of questioning from both sides of the aisle regarding the conduct of Republican President Richard Nixon, who eventually resigned.
The Watergate hearings, however ponderous, lowered the political temperature at a time of great national strain, assuring an anguished nation that grown-ups were in charge.
That kind of rhetorical restraint seems largely gone in the halls of power these days, perhaps the inevitable casualty of a social media culture driven by impulse instead of reflection.
If we’re to have an impeachment inquiry, then it should honor the true meaning of inquiry — questioning conditioned by an open mind. It’s a tall order in this polarized country, yet ultimately, the only way to bridge the gulf that divides us.