WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 10: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while flanked by Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the James Brady Briefing Room April 10, 2020 at the White House in Washington, DC. According to Johns Hopkins University, New York state has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any other country outside of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Michael J. Cozzillio and Krista J. Cozzillio
More than a year ago, the following observations appeared in this publication:
“[If Donald Trump] were not so morally, spiritually, and socially challenged … his reluctance to read, his inability to maintain a reasonable attention span during important briefings, and his shallow reservoir of discipline would cease to be ignored, downplayed phenomena. Lacking cerebral qualities is a significant shortcoming, wallowing in intellectual indifference is an unforgivable one.”
[W]e are a great country with an amazing record of resilience. Our legacy would reinforce that America has survived and flourished on antecedent success, momentum, creditable foresight, a strong constitution (physical and legislated), an imperfect but very workable system of checks and balances, and a ‘deep bench’ loaded with talented public servants. But those things, like a plane automatically piloted by computer, cannot elude catastrophe forever, and a rudderless ship will eventually run aground.”
At the time those words were penned, the existence of a leadership void was readily apparent.
But, who would have imagined that the most ominous threats to our survival would become unspeakable realities? Who would have expected to be regaled in a time of a monumental health calamity with fatuous suggestions of such medical marvels as Clorox cocktails and injected sun-rays?
Who would have predicted that the term “snake oil salesmen” would cease to be just a metaphor for deceitful tricksters? Who would have truly believed that the United States would become the epitome of indifference, naiveté, partisanship, and selfishness in the face of a crisis that demanded the polar opposite? Who would have known that our lives would hang not in the “balance,” but in the “unbalanced?”
While we may acknowledge our apparent myopia, why have we continued to tolerate this frightening absence of leadership?
As much as we rightly take pride in our Constitution and boast about it like we would our wonderful but flawed ancestors, we must confront the fact that perfect vision is a goal seldom realized.
A glaring illustration is the instruction provided by our primogenitors regarding the standard to be applied in assessing the chief executive’s continued ability and fitness to run, not ruin, the country.
Specifically, we now must concede that the impeachment criterion of a “high crime and misdemeanor” is a woefully inadequate polestar. No one really knows what this amorphous pretense of guidance means. No effort was made or all efforts failed to define the term precisely.
Yet, it is difficult to deny that we traditionally shy away from any definition that equates the term with gross incompetence, negligence, stupidity, or moral depravity. Why did the framers, so meticulous and diligent in other respects, seem to drop the ball when it involved something of such critical importance, especially in light of a Madisonian preoccupation with the importance of a fully functioning tripartite system of governance?
Is it not conceivable that the framers, beset with countless other issues demanding attention and compromise, unwittingly left us to our own devices on a matter desperately in need of more guidance?
For example, is it beyond the pale to conjure an image of John Adams or James Madison asking, “Should we leave this phrase, ‘high crimes and misdemeanor,’ without elaboration?
What if the president, confronting his administration’s failure to shepherd the scientific community into finding a cure for consumption, in frustration suggests that a dose of belladonna could be an effective panacea?
Further, what if that clueless president has not done enough basic homework to recognize that, while nightshades might be okay in some forms, none could cure consumption nor do anything to undo its effects, and worse yet that ingestion of some nightshades such as belladonna is fatal? Has our phrase ‘high crime and misdemeanor’ addressed that eventuality?
It is beyond dispute that impeachment was intended to be an extraordinary remedy and under no circumstance to serve as a political catspaw, exposing the president to the vagaries of partisanship. At the same time, there is no evidence that it was meant to represent toothless consensus providing incompetent presidents with four years of irrevocable tenure. It is part of Article II for a reason!
Sadly, our forefathers, though committed to providing a better life and future for our young nation, can be forgiven for not anticipating the incomprehensible set of circumstances within which we now find ourselves hopelessly mired.
But, as a republic presumably over two centuries wiser, having been tested in peace and in war, we cannot allow a man devoid of principle, conscience, empathy, and raw gray matter to continue to serve in the highest position of honor and distinction in the free world.
Derivatively, we cannot indulge other elected officials who have stood by and watched as this same man employed every tool in his arsenal to dismantle and dishonor that position in the transparent name of his own self-aggrandizement.
While the framers’ lack of precise draftsmanship may have precluded us from ousting this pretender through our legislatures, we, the people, still have the opportunity to correct our mistakes. Fortunately, November is just around the corner.
Michael J. Cozzillio is a former member of the faculty at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law as well as Widener Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, where he has served as Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Law. He is currently Of Counsel to Florio Perrucci Steinhardt Cappelli Tipton & Taylor LLC. Krista J. Cozzillio is a graduate of Vassar College and Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law. She is a former law school administrator and area piano instructor.
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