The Constitution establishes impeachment as the means of removal of the president by Congress. As we discover each time we go down this road, "high crimes and misdemeanors" means pretty much whatever the House and Senate think they do, which is to say it is a political standard.
But nothing in the establishment of a political standard for impeachment places the president above the law, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, and as we all held dear. Nothing in executive privilege immunizes the president or his agents from applicable criminal laws. High office is not a license to lie, cheat and steal — at least so long as you're in high office. Not in our system. As I recall, that was part of the point.
The difference between impeachment proceedings and proceedings on an indictment is the difference between political theatre and the judicial process. I mean no disrespect to political theatre: It is the script for our democracy. And I am the last one to pretend that what goes on in the courtroom is not loaded politically, on all sides. But there is still a difference, one this president may not respect but is at the core of our democracy.
Congress does the will of the people.
The courts enforce the law.
The judicial process is full of showmen and spinners. Not every judge deserves to be one, by any standard. Jury consultants do everything possible to skew juries, if it gets that far.
But a court of law is still different. The rule of law defines the proceedings. Process matters. Misdemeanors and felonies must be pled and proven, according to legal standards. Evidence must actually pass standards to be considered. Any semblance of politics gets you thrown out the door.
This is what President Donald Trump fundamentally does not understand. He believes that he controls everyone he appoints, that everything is politics, and that all politics is about him. That may be true in Trumpland but not under the Constitution. Not what the Founding Fathers envisioned. Not at all. All wrong. Three branches of government. Checks and balances. No one above the law.
The chief justice should not have to stand up for three branches of government. Checks and balances. Life tenure. The president makes no effort to hide his contempt. Make no mistake about it. These attacks on the Supreme Court are calculated.
Trump gives one so much to worry about. But a president who considers himself above the law when the constitutional system of our democracy makes so clear that he is not may be the most worrisome of all.
The miracle of our democracy is our ability to rise above partisanship when it matters most. At no time has the Supreme Court been more respected than when it has done that. At no time has it been less respected than when it is perceived to be doing politics.
There is no Army to enforce the decisions of the courts. The U.S. Marshals provide security, a huge challenge itself. The rule of law depends on our faith and belief in it. Preserving that faith is more important than any president, even or perhaps especially President Trump.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.