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Cockburn

Ben Franklin does Trump a favor

For a president who has ‘made himself obnoxious’, impeachment’s better than assassination

December 20, 2019

8:29 AM

20 December 2019

8:29 AM

As every American child learns in civics class, when Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a ‘Mrs Powel of Philadelphia’ called out to him, ‘Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?’ Franklin responded succinctly: ‘A republic, madam, if you can keep it.’ Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff are among the many Democrats to have dropped this quote in recent days. Expect to hear a lot more of it during Trump’s trial in the Senate. If you enjoy getting hammered, you can play the ‘a republic, if you can keep it’ drinking game, and sink a beer every time you hear these words.

Cockburn’s old history professor sends the page from Madison’s account of the Constitutional Convention that records Franklin’s argument for impeachment:

‘Docr. FRANKLIN was for retaining the clause as favorable to the Executive. History furnishes one example only of a first Magistrate being formally brought to public Justice. Every body cried out agst. this as unconstitutional. What was the practice before this in cases where the chief Magistrate rendered himself obnoxious? Why recourse was had to assassination in wch. he was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It wd.. be the best way therefore to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive where his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.’

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So the Founding Fathers were considerate enough to give President Trump the means to clear his name. The Founders loved to talk about ancient Rome and impeachment was a Roman thing, for Roman senators anyway. But emperors like Caesar got a knife to the neck or — the final blow, from Brutus — to the groin, when people found them obnoxious. As Franklin said, getting voted out of office by the Senate is better than a knife to the groin. ‘Et tu, Pence?’ Franklin’s quote is also used a couple of times in the report on impeachment written by the House Judiciary Committee under Jerry Nadler. A leading Democrat points Cockburn to pages 132-134, where Trump is described as a repeat offender: privately asking Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election; publicly asking Russia to interfere in 2016:

‘The bottom line is that President Trump used for personal political gain the powers entrusted to his office. He did so knowingly, deliberately, and repeatedly. The Constitution creates a democracy that derives its power from the American people. Elections are crucial to that system of self-government. But the Framers knew that elections alone could “not guarantee that the United States would remain a republic” if “unscrupulous officials” rigged the process. President Trump has done just that. He has done it before, he has done it here, and he has made clear he will do it again.’

Trump doesn’t see it that way. Pace Franklin (as the Romans would say) he called impeachment a ‘perversion’. And by impeaching him, the Democrats had ‘branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame’. Deploying Russia is probably a tactical error for the Democrats. There may well have been ‘a total of 272 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia-linked operatives’ — as one careful accounting, by the Moscow Project, showed — but the country is weary of all this. The Democrats returning to the ‘Russia conspiracy’ would be red meat for Trump’s supporters. And bringing evidence about Russia would drag out the trial in the Senate, through the Iowa caucuses and into the primaries. That will hurt Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They won’t be able to stump if they are sitting as jurors in a trial — one that no one thinks will end in a conviction given the Republican majority in the Senate.

Everyone’s taking off for the holidays now and nothing much will happen until January. When Franklin was arguing for impeachment, he brought up ‘the Prince of Orange’, William V of Orange, last ruler of the 18th century Dutch Republic. He fled to London and died in exile there after — as Franklin said — ‘giving birth to the most violent animosities & contentions.’ Franklin said: ‘Had he been impeachable, a regular & peaceable inquiry would have taken place and he would if guilty have been duly punished, if innocent restored to the confidence of the public.’ Does anyone believe an acquittal in the Senate will render the current Prince of Orange less obnoxious, put an end to violent animosities & contentions, and restore the confidence of the public? Cockburn is not optimistic.


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