Given that the second branch of the US government is the ‘legislative’ branch, it is no surprise that qualifications for joining that body give pride of place to a degree in law. And yet, it is unlikely that ‘the framers’ — as those who wrote the Constitution are referred to — ever imagined the lengths to which representatives would go to prove the correctness of their party’s positions or the honesty of their vote.
As the impeachment of President Trump enters the final preparatory stage, the media increasingly reminds voters of the circumstances under which two other presidents were indicted (the fancy word for ‘accused’). It calls in legal experts to explain the legal basis of each step in the process that is winding its way inexorably toward a trial in the US Senate, and tries to get Senators on both sides to reveal their voting intentions in advance. (In the US, ‘news’ is often about letting the cat out of the bag before it bursts open…)
What none of them appear to find remarkable is the extent to which law-making has been subordinated to investigations. Backing up, we can guess that, for the rebellious British colony, spying on the mother country — as well as French competitors for the new land — was a crucial part of the fight for independence, ensuring that ‘foreigners’ would forever more play a major role in American history. (I have no first hand evidence of what I am about to say, but I suspect that Europe’s former African colonies are as obsessed with warning against ‘the other’ as have been Americans, members of the most powerful empire has ever known constantly calling ‘Wolf!’)
The person who called the loudest was undoubtedly Minnesota Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, after Mao Tse Tung’s revolution was victorious in China, saw pro-Chinese Americans everywhere, using Senate hearings to compel ordinary Americans to admit their commitment — or even their interest! — in Communism. The term McCarthyism survived him until just recently, when the battle between Democrats imbued with Russophobia and Republicans obsessed with retaining presidential backing in the 2020 election led to an unprecedented knock down drag out battle for the future of the country.
What has made this possible is that the United States, uniquely among developed nations, has instituted ‘inspector generals’ in every government department, as well in as the FBI (and probably the CIA, although that fact may not have been made public), and that in turn inspectors general can be interrogated by Congress and investigated by the Department of Justice, as has happened recently during the events leading up to the vote to impeach the president. This is partly what makes the presidential nomination of an Attorney General who rules over the Department of Justice and is addressed simply as ‘general’ so controversial. The current AG — as this official is referred to — is William Barre, whose previous record of service to Republican presidents rather than the nation was pointed out by diligent reporters during his confirmation process in the Senate. This nas not prevented him from exercising more power than his office entitles him to, as when he presented his version of the Mueller report before it was released to the public, and systematically providing evasive responses when questioned. All of this has contributed to the intricate web of investigations and counter-investigations of the impeachment process.
This complex process, however, could not prevent the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, from declaring that he would cooperate closely with White House lawyers in directing the trial, dissecting the proposal of the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, which refers to the way in which the 1999 impeachment of former President Bill Clinton was carried out. (I followed this emotional event on CNN Europe from France, where I was living at the time, and I remember that the Europeans found it all the more hilarious that the US President was threatened with removal for having had an extra-marital affair, all the more so that the daughter President Mitterrand had had with his mistress had recently become a public figure.) Actually, Clinton was not punished for having extra-marital sex, but for having lied about it to a Grand Jury of the House of Representatives. Clinton’s peccadillos obviously can’t hold a candle to those of President Trump, which include a wide range of illegal acts, including extortion against Ukraine and buying the silence of mistresses.)
America’s current obsession with legality has provided a 24 hour stage for politicians to demonstrate their argumentative skill. In doing so it shows that the search for ‘truth’ can result in never-ending ‘discovery’ (a legal term that refers to the body of documents each side in a dispute must reveal to the other before a trial) during which the law can be twisted endlessly, ultimately forcing lower level government employees who may have witnessed wrong-doing to testify against co-workers or superiors, requiring saddling them to open-ended legal fees.
The fact that the Beltway has replaced research and negotiations with legalistic maneuvers, has the unintended consequence of leaving the United States unprepared for an attack. America’s Russophobes would be embarrassed were anyone to point out that their country’s designated enemy, Russia (China’s existence as an indispensable trading partner currently deprives it of that status) has taken not the slightest action, its president no doubt channeling Alice’s Cheshire cat. Meanwhile, a former Democratic Congresswoman reminded Americans that Trump has warned there could be civil war if he fails to be re-elected in 2020.
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.