Column: Impeachment would force us to a reckoning

  • James McCord shows how to rig the transmitter of bugging device in a telephone at a hearing in Washington, D.C. on May 23, 1973. on March 21, 2019 in Washington, D.C. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Charles Del Vecchio

  • Steve Nelson

For the Valley News
Published: 4/27/2019 10:50:16 PM

In the early summer of 1973, the nation’s focus was riveted on the testimony of John Dean and other key figures in the Watergate investigation of President Richard Nixon and his subordinates. At the time my wife, toddler daughter and I lived in an apartment complex in the suburbs of Cleveland. We shared a small courtyard/landing in the back, joined to other neighbors by fire escape-style stairs emptying into the common area.

Each evening, our bachelor neighbor Frank (“Gank” to our daughter) would bring his black-and-white television through his first floor window, adjust the tin foil on the antenna, and a shifting group of us would share an inexpensive bottle of wine and watch the drama unfold. We all saw the same thing at the same time. There was no moderation or partisan commentary. Democratic Sen. Sam Ervin and his Republican vice chair, Howard Baker, led the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, commonly known as the Watergate Committee, with blunt dignity.

Forty-six years later, Democrats in the House and Senate are calculating the complex practical and political considerations of beginning impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, whose well-documented behavior is inarguably more serious than that of Nixon.

These vivid memories convince me that impeachment of Donald Trump is essential, even if conviction in a Senate trial is unlikely and even if the ignorant backlash leads to his reelection. Many worry that impeachment will further divide a deeply divided nation. I believe impeachment may be the best hope for closing this divide

Putting aside the most extreme partisan views, we are divided in part because our information is curated through ideological filters. Cable hosts and newspaper pundits trade blows from a distance, seldom facing each other and selecting evidence that makes their case and sustains their viewing or reading demographic. As Valley News readers might suspect, I’m more inclined toward Rachel Maddow than Sean Hannity, but I occasionally watch Fox News or read op-ed pieces on its website out of curiosity. I make no false equivalence. Much of the “news” on Fox is transparent propaganda, but the conservative commentariat is neither incompetent nor completely wrong.

In this admittedly generous analysis, each side has adequate rationale, if not legitimate justification, to dismiss the other point of view. It is like we are watching two different movies in America and can’t even talk to each other about the story.

Even the Mueller report, for those who actually read it, is incomplete without vigorous interrogation. One individual might read it and recommend a prison sentence while another is convinced that the facts are inconsequential and thereby exonerate Trump of any serious charges.

Articles of impeachment will make the case in one narrative, for all to see. Impeachment resolutions have been introduced, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi must appoint either the Judiciary Committee or a Special Committee to consider a resolution and recommend, by simple majority, a full vote on the House floor. There is no doubt that this process will be attacked as partisan and political by Trump and Republican members of the House and Senate. So be it.

But a Senate trial, broadcast across America, will force us to a reckoning. Witnesses must tell the truth under threat of perjury. Cross-examination is the only effective test of that truth. If GOP senators want to pander and obfuscate, they’ll have to do it in full view, denying what all can see and formally etching their dark place in history.

In 1972 and early 1973, Richard Nixon remained quite popular, despite the emerging evidence of potentially criminal activity. His partisan supporters could dismiss it all as inconsequential or politics as usual.

But on those fascinating evenings in 1973, America changed. There was no avoiding the truth, as it played out, literally in black and white, in front of a nation’s eyes.

There is no other way to conclude this ugly time in our history. And if, in the full presence of the truth of this president and his dishonesty, incompetence, mean-spiritedness and ignorance, our system fails, then we will know what we have become.

Steve Nelson lives in Boulder, Colo., and Sharon. He can be reached at

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