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Calvinism And Trump’s Impeachment

January 22, 2020

The one thing we all can agree on when it comes to the Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump is that this is all highly interesting, with many spokes of the wheel to explore.  That does not mean, of course, this is not frustrating or troubling for the nation.  But when it comes to historical and legal arguments, along with the Constitutional foundations from the Founders, there are ample reasons as to why this is simply fascinating.

One of the more disjointed attempts by Donald Trump’s legal team to assert that his removal from office if not merited came from Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz.  He tried to peddle his tonic to the nation that an “abuse of power” by itself is not enough to justify the impeachment of a president.   I was taken aback at such a claim.  I can just see historian Joesph Ellis roll his eyes as he learned of the professor’s claim.

Dershowitz argues that “abuse of power” is not an impeachable offense, because it’s not a statutory crime and therefore not a “high crime or misdemeanor,” as the Constitution requires.  It is clear that the Democratic senators will reject that upside-down argument mainly because it undermines the very intent of the Founding Fathers when drafting the Constitution.  It is also clear that Republicans, who are demonstrating partisanship is the only loyalty they have, will agree to whatever they are told by the defense team.

For the rest of us comes a great read today from Justia.  (A great place to bookmark and read each day.)

The Framers’ opinion of human nature was shaped in part by a shared religious viewpoint running through the Convention. More Framers were educated by or affiliated with Presbyterian or Calvinist churches than any other religious theology. James Madison was educated at the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University, by the Rev. John Witherspoon. In Madison’s own words, he received a “strong dose of Calvinism” from Witherspoon.

The core belief of Calvinism that became the secular backbone of our constitutional order is this: every human is tempted to abuse power, and most will. The Convention was awash in this sentiment. The Framers’ debates were focused on how to construct a governing machine that would deter expected abuses of power.

The Framers’ greatest fear for the executive was that one person would come to see themselves as a God-given monarch, and that they would become untethered from accountability to Congress, the states, the people, and the Constitution. They worried the president would be self-serving and even incapable of being reined in by the Constitution’s checks and balances. They were instinctually scared of one person taking the power vested in them by the Constitution and diverting that power to further their selfish ends rather than the common good. They expected those in power to sink to the lowest common denominator and literally hoped that the system would be robust enough to resist such human depravity.

The Framers’ belief in human fallibility also meant that they knew they were incapable of creating a perfect system. They expected the power they deployed to be reshaped by power-hungry individuals to serve their own ends in ways they could not even imagine. That is why the Constitution did not come with a guarantee but rather an amendment process and an impeachment process.

Dershowitz has become an enabler of the very type of presidency that the Framers would have found to be a betrayal of the system they put in place. Trump has repeatedly said that there are no limits on his power, and Dershowitz is simply chiming in. That attitude alone justifies impeachment from the Framers’ perspective.

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