After watching the first two days of the House impeachment investigation, I suspect the only way the Senate will be able conclude the inevitable impeachment trial with integrity, and without upheaval, will be to allow a final vote on each of the articles of impeachment by secret ballot. I know that runs contrary to important values of transparency and personal accountability, but in this single circumstance I believe an exception is warranted.
House and Senate members are working in extremely polarized environments under unrelenting pressures to function more as competing political parties than as constitutionally purposed institutions of government. They are also immersed in a vindictive political climate where no one is safe from personal attacks, even physical threats, for the smallest disagreements or perceived slights against our authoritarian populist President. Republican politicians legitimately fear that expressions of criticism or insufficient homage can trigger career-ending retribution.
Everyone knows this and none can do anything about it. We can say Republicans brought it on themselves; they enabled the President’s accumulation and abuse of power as it furthered their agendas and now must fear his ability and willingness to harm them. But blaming now doesn’t help. As senators are called to this most serious task of judging the president in his impeachment trial, the nation needs their loyalty to country first and their best judgment.
We see in the House impeachment hearings that defending Mr. Trump against the mounting evidence of corruption is boiling down to attacks on the integrity of countless earnest Americans or claims that laws and strategic relationships with Western allies don’t matter much, that either all the witnesses are lying or the President’s alleged betrayals aren’t important. Either position weakens the nation. A much more serious appraisal is needed. The Senate’s duty now will be to weigh the importance to the country of the laws, responsibilities, norms, and values the President is charged with violating and that we know he will continue to violate.
In their unique role as jurors, Senators on both sides of the isle need to be able to evaluate and vote objectively and honestly, according to their conscience and highest ideals. In a political environment dominated by demands for blind loyalty, backed by credible threats, including of violence, the Senate would be justified in protecting its members’ safety and independence. As juries often do, the Senate could adopt a rule, with a simple majority vote, requiring that all members’ votes on the question of impeachment be cast by secret ballot. In this way the Senate would render its final verdict with one voice, as the single institution charged by the Constitution with doing so. Whatever the outcome, there would be no one Party or individuals to attack; the country would know the judgment was not coerced and was fairly rendered.