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Public must provide 'checks and balances'

Bill Wagnon
Special from Gannett Kansas
Bill Wagnon is emeritus professor of history at Washburn University and former member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

Republican refusal to call additional witnesses in the impeachment trial represented nothing more than cowering before the Wizard. They either drank the Kool Aid or quailed fearful of their future in party primaries.

In shedding their responsibility to block the usurpation of executive power, they have severely handicapped the Constitution’s mandate to exercise checks and balances as the guardian of American liberty.

Americans have been here before and the outcome was entirely different.

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, tiring of conservative opposition to his New Deal reforms, organized a purging of congressional opponents within his own party. He recruited a cadre of New Dealers to oppose incumbent senators and representatives, particularly in the South. Solid South Democrats controlled Congress through seniority. As committee chairmen, they blocked many of Roosevelt’s efforts at economic recovery. In primary election after primary election, Roosevelt's conservative incumbents won re-election. But in November, FDR carried every southern electoral vote for his re-election to a second term.

Not content with his failed purge, Roosevelt undertook a campaign to get the new congress to change the make up of the Supreme Court, in order to allow him to pack it with new justices favorable to New Deal reforms. That power grab failed also, teaching President Roosevelt about the realities of “checks and balances.”

Indeed, his deference to local isolationist politics shaped his strategy in responding to spreading European and Asian fascism. Pearl Harbor would nationalize politics that backed his role as commander in chief and lead the nation to victory in WWII. Exercise of executive power in behalf of the Four Freedoms assured that Constitutional structures would remain in place.

U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neal would later coin the phrase “all politics is local.” The power of that concept shaped presidential leadership through the Cold War era. However, 21st Century Republican leaders have successfully demonized opponents, producing a polarized nationalized electorate in the process.

Donald Trump is simply the latest and most successful of this new cadre. Unfortunately, his goal seems to be nothing like the Four Freedoms of WWII, but rather his own personal edification. The Republican-dominated Senate is blinded by this development. Rather than taking inspiration from their 1930s predecessors, they have simply abandoned any responsibility to bell the cat.

Our only hope is that the national electorate will take that duty seriously in the forthcoming election and end this travesty.

Bill Wagnon is emeritus professor of history at Washburn University and former member of the Kansas State Board of Education.