High Noon in the House of Representatives

In the 1952 movie “High Noon” Will Kane, the sheriff of an unnamed western town, is left alone to face the murderous Frank Miller. The townspeople, who the sheriff is paid to protect, desert him in his hour of need because they are cowards, willing to accept the chaos and corruption Miller represents rather than face the possibility of death.

On December 13, 2023, the entire Republican membership of the House of Representatives, encouraged by the 45th President of the United States, voted to authorize an impeachment investigation into President Joe Biden, the 46thPresident. The House Republicans voted for the impeachment investigation not because they have evidence that Biden has committed the “high crimes and misdemeanors” the Constitution requires, but because Biden’s predecessor demanded it.

In fact, some of the House Republicans, reasonable, intelligent men and women, know that Biden has done nothing to warrant impeachment. They voted for the investigation for fear of their own kind of death—losing their congressional seats if they thwarted the wishes of the former president. They fit the definition of a coward: “a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.” It was High Noon in the House of Representatives, and the majority came up short.

That would be bad enough if it were the end of it, but it gets worse. One of the hallmarks of an autocracy is its essential lawless nature operating under the guise of lawfulness. Hence, the Nazis when they came to power in 1933 began enacting several measures, singling out Jews for special attention and depriving them of the right to live normal lives. Eventually, the Nazis deprived millions of Jews of their existence. The effort started as a quasi-legal exercise, but as time went on it evolved into mob violence—Kristallnacht—and, eventually, the Holocaust.

In its most naked form, an autocratic regime declares a person a criminal and invents a charge to justify the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment—or death. In this instance, after more than a year after taking control of the House, the Republican majority has yet to identify a single act that even suggests wrongdoing by Joe Biden. Attempts to connect Biden to the questionable—but not necessarily illegal—activities of his son, Hunter, have been unsuccessful. As a result, the authorization of an impeachment investigation is an answer in search of a question.

For most of our history, impeachment was a dire step, to be invoked only in the most extreme instances. From the time Andrew Johnson was impeached—but not convicted—in 1868, no president was impeached for another 130 years. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 when he faced impeachment. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. And Donald Trump was impeached twice during his four-year term, both times for specific acts.

Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. The rules of evidence and courtroom procedures don’t apply in impeachment proceedings. In the past, however, when impeachment action was taken, its advocates could point to something concrete that the president had done. A certain threshold had to be crossed to warrant considering impeachment. Obviously, not so in the present case. In the present instance, the impeachment urge is purely partisan. No improper act has been alleged. No crime is apparent. Vague references have been made to “smoke,” whatever that may be, but no fire has been found. But the partisan advocates of impeachment keep insisting that the process must go forward.

What is clear is that the 45th President thinks the scales must be balanced for the 2024 presidential campaign. An eye for an eye; an impeachment for an impeachment.

This Congress, the 118th, has been one of, if not the, least productive in American history. For the first time a speaker of the House failed to win election on the first ballot. It took 15 ballots to elect Kevin McCarthy, who is the first speaker to be removed from office, in his case after serving for only nine months, the shortest tenure in our history.

Among the myriad of problems needing attention by Congress are the crisis at our southern border, climate change, the ballooning national debt, the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza and southern Israel, the opportunity and danger posed by artificial intelligence and on and on.

Instead, the puppet House majority elects to spend its time searching for a crime to charge Joe Biden with, fearing that if they don’t, they will incur not only Trump’s wrath but the wrath of the voters who elected them.

The House action on December 13 may be a prelude to the autocracy we face if Donald Trump returns to office on January 20, 2025. During Trump’s first term Republicans in the House and Senate were only too happy to go along with his wishes, unnecessarily reducing taxes at a moment of great prosperity for the country and increasing the federal debt by more than $7 trillion. There’s no reason to expect that Republicans would be any more independent under another Trump administration.

Trump would have liked to “weaponize” the Justice Department during his term in office. Given a second chance, he most likely will succeed. He already has declared that his mission in seeking another term is “revenge”. When the history of this period is written, congressional Republicans will be noted for their role—not as enablers, but as accomplices—in creating whatever mayhem we may be facing in the coming days.

If the past is prologue, then the present must be as well. Where are we headed?

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