Saturday, October 12, 2019

Musings on Impeachment and Elections as Measures of Political Legitimacy

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

If Trump is impeached, his trial will be in the Senate where a majority of Republicans will likely exonerate him.  If so, Trump and his Republican Party minions will then have to face the 2020 elections with a jury of American voters.  The outcome of the November trial is the one that really matters, and that verdict will be returned at the end of election day.

It’s commonly assumed that if the Senate acquits Trump, he and his party will spin that to demonize Democrats and mobilize enough voters to win the 2020 election.  But the wild card is how American voters, not Republican senators, react on election day to the evidence presented in the impeachment trial along with Trump’s increasingly bizarre behavior.

Article 2, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution provides, The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.  Impeachment requires a violation of law to remove a president from office; elections have no such limitations.

Laws aren’t the only standards of political legitimacy.  Politicians often forget that voters also hold them accountable for moral standards of legitimacy.  Religious leaders of Jesus’ day ignored the moral standard of altruistic love and emphasized Mosaic law as God’s standard of righteousness; but Jesus taught the primacy of love over law with the greatest commandment.

We’ll have to wait and see if there is evidence that Trump committed a crime in the impeachment process, but his moral behavior has been deplorable based on the teachings of Jesus.  If the Senate exonerates Trump from criminal behavior in his impeachment, his political fate will remain subject to a verdict by voters in November 2020 on his moral behavior.

If Trump is on the ballot in 2020, independent voters will decide his fate at the polls.    Loyal Republicans constitute about 40% of the electorate, while Democrats can count on about the same percentage of loyal voters.  The remaining 20% of independent voters will determine the fate of Trump and his Republican Party if Trump is exonerated in his impeachment trial.

The election of 2020 will also determine the fate of American democracy.  If Trump wins the electoral college, Americans will forfeit their freedom and democracy to demagoguery as did Germans when they allowed HItler and his Nazis to rise to power.  That was an example of how a savvy demagogue can subvert both democracy and Christianity to his nefarious ends.

The legitimacy of America’s civil religion is on trial.  America’s Christians represent over 70% of voters. If they ignore the altruistic moral teachings of Jesus in politics and allow Trump and his Republican minions to retain their political power in the 2020 elections, the fabric of American democracy will come apart at its seams, and demagoguery will reign supreme.


Jim Wallis thinks the impeachment of Donald Trump could help us rediscover Jesus.  He believes it “Takes us deeper than politics, to the moral foundations of our faith.”  Wallis suggests that we grapple with eight questions relating to our faith and politics:
The Neighbor Question: In an environment where the question of whether we will love or hate our neighbor is dangerously at stake, Jesus told us what it means to love our neighbor, which includes, according to Jesus’ definition, those who are different from us. “Who is my neighbor?” is the gospel question that underlies everything now in American politics.
The Image Question: Jesus reminds us [that]...all human beings were made in God’s image and likeness. If we love and honor Jesus, we will acknowledge that every human being is a child of God and must be treated accordingly. Who is valuable and who is not is at the core of our political decisions.
The Truth Question: When the number of official lies told becomes legion to the point that people doubt the existence of truth anymore, Jesus says, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Our very freedom is vitally connected to the truth. Whether the facts and the truth matter anymore in America, in the Congress, in the media — and even in the churches — will be a defining question.
The Power Question: When leadership becomes utterly defined by power, and by winning and losing, Jesus says leadership is about service and washing each other’s feet. “Who is the greatest?” cuts to the core of how a society is led, and by whom. Where do we see or long for public “service” to prevail over private political aggrandizement?
The Fear Question: When people don’t just fear the things that are reasonable to be concerned about, but are now living in the “spirit of fear,” Jesus repeats this phrase more than almost any other: “Be not afraid.” When political leaders run on fear, we must learn to break free of it and dispel it.
The Caesar Question: When the “Caesar test” is being defined by strongmen who say everything is about them, Jesus instructs his followers to render to Caesar only the limited things that belong to him; and to God, everything else.
The Peacemaker Question: When accusation, slander, and attack become the norms of public discourse, Jesus says that those who are the peacemakers, the conflict resolvers, will be called “the children of God.”
The Discipleship Question: When wealth and power become the definitions of society and politics, Jesus makes the extraordinary judgment that the ultimate measure of our lives, including God’s evaluation of the kings of the nations, is what we have done for “the least of these,” which was Jesus’ final discipleship test.

Jake Novak has explained why Trump’s poll numbers are defying the impeachment process: “A very large number of Americans don’t have high levels of trust and respect for the government, and they’re generally OK with Trump being the junkyard dog who digs it all out.  This is Donald Trump’s brand. Comedian Dennis Miller put it as succinctly as possible: “The simple fact is that if Trump was vaguely presidential he wouldn’t be President.” This goes beyond scandalous or nasty behavior. Even little things like frequent misspellings in his tweets reinforce his brand of being anything but a polished politician.  Trump’s many exaggerations and outright falsehoods are judged by a different standard. Going back to his days as a casino mogul and reality TV show host, Trump established a brand for bluster or “puffing” that we accept when we see commercials for the “best car ever,” and the “greatest show on earth.” Fact-checking Trump is almost a waste of time. Branding is an important guide when it comes to seeing how any president can weather scandals. ...Two very different presidents in the past [Nixon & Clinton] who came out of their own impeachment scandals very differently, thanks largely due to their political and personal branding.”

Leonar Greene has opined, Impeach him if you must, but the only way to get Trump out is to vote. See  

Related Commentary on the greatest commandment and love over law:
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(10/13/18): Musings on a Common Word of Faith and Politics for Christians and Muslims
(2/23/19): Musings on Loving Your Enemy, Including the Enemy Within
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors? 
(7/27/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice
(8/31/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Politics of Christian Zionism
(9/21/19): An Afterword on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics from 2014-2019
(10/5/19): Musings on the Moral Relevance of Jesus to Democracy

On religion, morality and politics:
(12/29/14): Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy
(2/8/15): Promoting Religion Through Evangelism: Bringing Light or Darkness?
(2/15/15): Is Religion Good or Evil?
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/12/15): Reconciliation in Race and Religion: The Need for Compatibility, not Conformity
(8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(8/23/15): Legitimacy as a Context and Paradigm to Resolve Religious Conflict
(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?
(1/16/16): Religion, Politics and Public Expectations
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/28/16): Nihilism as a Threat to Politics, Religion and Morality
(7/2/16): The Need for a Politics of Reconciliation in the Wake of Globalization
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/24/16): The Evolution of Religion and Politics from Oppression to Freedom
(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad
(12/31/16): E Pluribus Unum, Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(1/7/17): Religion and Reason as Sources of Political Legitimacy, and Why They Matter
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17): Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism  
(8/19/17): Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era? 
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?
(1/6/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Diversity in Democracy
(1/13/18): Nationalist Politics and Exclusivist Religion: Obstacles to Reconciliation and Peace
(1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics
(2/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religion, Freedom and Legitimacy
(3/17/18): Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics
(3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy
(4/7/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Moral Reformation
(4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality
(5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again
(5/19/18): Musings on Morality and Law as Symbiotic but Conflicting Standards of Legitimacy
(7/21/18): Musings on America’s Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up
(8/4/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Religious Problems and Solutions in Politics
(8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics
(8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics
(9/1/18): Musings on the American Civil Religion and Christianity at a Crossroads
(9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism
(10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics
(10/27/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Migrant Tidal Wave
(11/24/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and the Legitimacy of Democracy
(1/5/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Building Political Walls or Bridges
(2/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?
(3/30/19): Musings on What the Mueller Report Doesn’t Say About Trump’s Wrongdoing
(4/12/19): Musings on Religion, Nationalism and Libertarian Democracy
(4/20/19): Musings on the Resurrection of Altruistic Morality in Dying Democracies
(4/27/19): Musings on the Legitimacy of Crony Capitalism and Progressive Capitalism
(5/4/19): Musings on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
(5/11/19): Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century
(5/18/19): Outsiders Versus Insiders in Religion, Legitimacy and Politics
(5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus
(6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics 
(6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity
(6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?
(7/6/19): Musings on Democrats, Busing and Racism: It’s Deja Vu All Over Again
(7/13/19): Musings on Sovereignty and Conflicting Loyalties to God and Country 
(7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors? 
(7/27/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Love Over Law and Social Justice
(8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of  the Church and Democracy in America
(8/10/19): Musings on Christian Nationalism: A Plague on the Church and Democracy
(8/17/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Shame in Religion and Politics
(9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy
(9/14/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Chaos as a Prelude to a New Creation
(9/21/19): An Afterword on Religion, Legitimacy and Politics from 2014-2019
(10/5/19): Musings on the Moral Relevance of Jesus to Democracy

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