"Wherever law ends, tyranny begins," — John Locke, "Two Treatises of Government"
It was Feb. 3, 2020, two days before the Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of any wrongdoing and handed him a blank check to keep doing it.
Having devoted much of my professional life to writing and lecturing on politics and government and the rule of law, I felt compelled to write to Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran before the vote impeachment in the Senate.
My message expressed a sense of betrayal. Why in the world would you oppose allowing witnesses in a trial? Kansas is better than that. The people of Kansas are better than that. Shame on you, I wrote.
Soon thereafter I received a reply from Pat Roberts. He denounced "the attacks on President Trump [as] pure political theater" and then told me ". . . there is no foregone conclusion to this trial." That was a lie. Last December, Mitch McConnell said on national television, "There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position . . . ."
Even so, Roberts’ disingenuous reply paled in comparison with Senator Moran’s. "It became clear," he wrote, "that the House failed to undertake its responsibility to collect supporting evidence. . . [and] additional evidence or witnesses would not change the material underlying facts . . . . Therefore, I voted to not permit additional witnesses . . . ."
In truth, 51 Republican senators voted against permitting witnesses knowing full well that President Trump (a.k.a., the person on trial) had ordered witnesses to defy House subpoenas. To stonewall Congress and impede its attempts to collect more supporting evidence (as though tons more would have made a difference). Bear in mind that obstruction of Congress was one of the articles of impeachment.
President Trump was wrong last summer when he declared, "I have the right to do whatever I want as president". If he said it tomorrow would he still be wrong? Or has the U.S. Senate handed an impulsive president unlimited power to do whatever he wants?
In the words Paul Savoy, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office:
This is how autocracy comes to America: not with a declaration of martial law and tanks in the street, but by a roll-call vote in the Senate whipped by the leader of the Senate in violation of the Constitution.
Today, Donald Trump’s bold and defiant assertion of unlimited presidential power appears prophetic, quite possibly the most alarming prophecy by a sitting president in American history. Let us hope Savoy’s words are not similarly prophetic:
If on the day the Senate returns its verdict, history records the failure to convict the president following a trial without witnesses, that will be the day the rule of law dies in America. The courts will remain open for business. Congress will be in session. Citizens will still be able to vote. And a free press will continue to launch withering attacks on President Trump. But the American people will no longer be living in a constitutional democracy.
The Senate’s attempt to bar witnesses made the trial a travesty, but make no mistake: Kansas voters witnessed what happened. The whole nation saw it. And the rest of the world, too.
Tom Magstadt, of Westwood Hills, co-wrote a book first published in 1984, "Understanding Politics." The 13th edition came out last month. It is one of the longest-running and best-selling basic textbooks on politics in the English language.