An invitation to civil dialogue on a complex issue

I am a strong believer in dialogue across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, many Americans seem to be giving up on talking (and, in particular, listening) to “the other side.”

I recently commented on a (July 25, 2019) Facebook post by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3), who was calling for the impeachment of the president. My comment acknowledged that I consider that the president committed impeachable offenses. But I encouraged Mr. Blumenauer to reach out across the aisle, and engage bipartisan support for his call—and specifically the support of Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR2), the representative for my district. Coincidentally, I had earlier sent a letter to Mr. Walden, encouraging him to call for a bipartisan impeachment inquiry, a letter that I appended to my comment.

My comment has, as of this writing, received scant attention. Only two people reacted, both possibly Trump supporters (and that would be good news, in this context). One just reacted with a laughing face, which is an understandable (if unhelpful) response to a principled but unusual—and unlikely to be realistic—idea. The other reaction was in the form of a sensible question: “[W]hat do you ‘consider’ these impeachable offenses to be?”

My response to this question is reproduced below. I don’t know whether it will lead to a positive dialogue—the future will tell. But I hope it is taken as what it is meant to be: a good-faith effort to reach across political divides, on one of the most complex political dilemmas that we face as a nation.

This type of outreach effort may sound naive, but instead it is needed and worthwhile. If we don’t find a way to talk to those we don’t agree with, we might as well accept that we have entered the fall of America, and of its driving idea: freedom, liberty and equality for all. And that fall is not something that I am willing to accept. Too much, for our country and globally, depends on that powerful idea flourishing to full potential.

Your thoughts—whatever part of the political spectrum you identify with—are greatly welcome. But please keep any eventual dialogue civil and thoughtful. That is the way forward.

——— Text of my response (links are add-ons) ———

Thank you for the question, which gives me the opportunity to expand on my thinking beyond what I already did on my letter to Mr. Walden (enclosed in my first comment). Impeaching proceedings against a President are (and appropriately so) rare. They are also a political, rather than a judicial, process—thus, almost by definition, leave wide room for interpretation and opinion.

My thoughts and interpretation are those of an independent voter concerned with our country—not those of a Republican or Democrat. Of course, the interpretation that ultimately matters is that of Congress, hence the letter to my congressman.

Impeachable offenses include “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Of these four types of offense, only treason seems to be well defined in the specific context of impeachment. The others, and in particular the term “other high crimes and misdemeanors,” which would be the applicable ones here, are left to interpretation. I accept the (common) interpretation that they cover serious allegations of misconduct such as (among others) perjury of oath and abuse of authority.

None of these should be lightly invoked. We live in a democratic Republic, and the natural mechanism to remove (or re-elect) a President is at the ballot box. However, as I state in my letter to Mr. Walden; “[…] by demonstrably obstructing (whether or not with criminal intent) Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and by undermining the assessments of our intelligence agencies, Mr. Trump is actively aiding a foreign foe to continue to interfere with our elections, and [is] thus threatening our national sovereignty.”

The election system is at the core of our democratic Republic. Presidents swear an oath to—to the best of their abilities—“preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Systematically failing to protect our electoral system would break that oath, and pose a serious threat to national security. It would thus be a conscience-driven trigger for the exceptional act of calling for impeachment proceedings. The findings of Mr. Mueller’s report suggest that Congress should consider those proceedings. For national, rather than partisan reasons.

Yet, this country needs to be brought together, rather than split further apart. An impeachment proceeding driven by a single party would be extremely divisive and counter-productive. That is why I state in my letter to Mr. Walden that: “What would constitute an important moral standing is for enough House Republicans to call for an impeachment inquiry, with one of the articles of impeachment focused on the President’s (in)action to protect the US from Russia’s electoral interference.” And that is why I suggested to Mr. Blumenauer that he reaches out to Mr. Walden, rather than just within the Democratic Party.

As Americans, we can (and should) have different political opinions. But we must be unified in the defense of our country—and of our electoral system. I hope we still are, although I fear that partisan perspectives are clouding our collective judgement.

Civil dialogue—as hard as it might be—is the key to a future that we can all be proud of. Thanks again for your question. I would be interested in your thoughts on my response.

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