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Playing "chicken" with the republic by @BloggersRUs

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Playing “chicken” with the republic

by Tom Sullivan

Memorial Day honors those who died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Not in any particular conflict, but in defense of the republic. The holiday began in Charleston, SC, initiated by former slaves in memory of those who lost their lives freeing them in the course of the bloody fight to preserve the republic during its most serious crisis.

The crisis we face today at times feels no less dire. “A criminal administration” consolidates its power by undermining the very Constitution its leader swore an oath before the world to uphold. Obeying the law has always been an inconvenience to Donald Trump. The president is a man born and bred to treat the law as a cudgel against his enemies and otherwise irrelevant to restraining his appetites. He and his hirelings are bad faith incarnate.

Garrett Epps, professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, writes, “The ongoing battle between this administration and the House committees is not, at heart, a legal dispute at all; it is an assertion by a president that the law and the Constitution are simply irrelevant when they conflict with his will.”

Defending the republic against Trump‘s creeping autocracy are Democratic strategists in the House of Representatives led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the face of increasing administration lawlessness and outright defiance of “black letter law,” Democrats seem determined to follow conventional rules in resisting an adversary waging an asymmetrical war against democracy.

Pelosi’s lieutenants appearing on Sunday talk shows clearly hew to her go-slow approach of stiff-arming allies on opening formal impeachment hearings.* Deferring until Donald Trump leaves them no other choice may provide cover for not appearing over-eager. Delaying hearings until Democrats see the whites of the president’s eye sockets could give televised impeachment hearings enhanced election-year impact as well. Then again, Democrats may be, one Twitter user wrote, “bringing Robert’s Rules of Order to a gun fight.”

“Legacy” Democrats for years have cowered before the prospect Republicans will brand their initiatives subversive or un-American. As if Republicans won’t anyway. Will Bunch worries (as I do) their caution has failed them again:

Waiting in a defensive crouch until an election in November 2020 is a terrible strategy, and not just because it’s too long to wait. It’s true a majority of voters will for now tell a pollster they don’t favor impeachment, but they also haven’t been presented the evidence in televised hearings as happened during Watergate. It’s also true that voters want action on issues. But they also trusted the people they elected to uphold the basic rule of law so that everyday folks don’t have to worry about it. We focus so much on issues – but voters care most about character.

And the character that voters admire most is courage.

The kind we honor on Memorial Day.

Norm Ornstein urges Democrats to display the kind of courage citizens will vote for:

You are trying to show impeachable offenses. Hold aggressive hearings with @benjaminwittes and some of the 900 prosecutors who signed the letter— let them lay out the evidence in stark terms. Then move to formal impeachment inquiry. Lay the right groundwork NOW.

The problem with the go-slow approach is that every day Democrats lay back, the Trump administration fortifies its position. Every day Democrats rely on the courts to show courage for them, they are taking fire that will become increasingly withering if not answered vigorously.

Paul Rosenberg and Ornstein believe flooding the zone is necessary to put the administration on the defensive before it gains the upper hand:

Up to now, “playing by the rules” has allowed for protracted delay and diffusion of attention, interest and understanding. Trump is a lifelong practitioner of twisting rules to his advantage. But Ornstein points out that the rules allow a dramatically different, politically potent and proactive approach that enables Democrats to proceed on their terms, flooding the zone with substantive findings to set their own agenda, and overwhelm Trump‘s flood of crap.

So much wrongdoing has already come to light that Congress need not delay action waiting to get everything it might want, such as testimony from Barr and Mueller, which would normally kick off the hearing process. Congress can use hearings to dramatically inform the public of what’s already known — and in the process, it can ratchet up the pressure to get what’s still being held back.

Not doing so is playing “chicken” with the fate of the republic. Trump expects bluff and bluster will make opponents cower. Democrats cannot afford to be seen doing so if for no other reason than voters do not elect the timid as leaders. But also because Trump believes delay works to his advantage. He has used that tactic against opponents his entire career. Democrats fall into his trap by not denying it to him.

What they must consider is a frontal assault on his lawlessness before the only gambit left to them for saving democracy is Col. Chamberlain’s.

* My message on Saturday was not to count on additional authorities that come with a formal impeachment inquiry to wrest documents from an administration already breaking the law to withhold them.

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