What Does the Evidence Show?

I learned many powerful lessons from my father. He was a dedicated pediatrician and he spent his last years doing medical evaluations for suspected child abuse. He was responsible for forensic analysis and, in some cases, evidence collection. Over lengthy conversations I learned of a number of his frustrations in this area, often due to cases of arrogance. He said he only approached each distinct case with one primary question: what does the evidence show?

Years after my father had passed away I continue to learn of the many lives he impacted in positive ways. His evaluations removed children from danger and sent abusive relatives to prison in some cases–and sometimes it meant families would be reunited—children were returned to their loving parents. Being told, “your father is the only reason we were able to keep our kids,” leaves a permanent imprint, “the prosecutors made their minds up as soon as they saw our tattoos…” tells the story of a rush to judgment that a commitment to truth guarded against.

Watching the hearings for the potential articles to remove Donald Trump from the office of the White House I see the most magnified version of what my father hated. The evidence presented is not refuted; the patterns of behavior, the events, the words, the implications, etc. are all clear, but bluster and hot air are presented as a defense. More sickening is a look at the scale of the malfeasance, and the number of people willing to betray truth and justice for personal gain. The lies have consequences and they’ve promulgated a divided society, bifurcated by truth and fiction.

Trump’s wholesale dishonesty has been absorbed by the Republican party and right-wing-faux-news with dangerous outcomes. Trump’s thousands of lies provide cover for his crimes—cover that only works for those seemingly averse to critical thinking. Some of his supporters clearly benefit through his tax-giveaways to the rich, others through contracts and lax appointments. The hearings make the distinction between commitment to others and commitment to self crystal clear.

I have followed it all closely. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to explain the current events to my students when they ask questions, but current events defy reason. Make no mistake, 17 federal intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is behind the hacking, but Trump now has the historically “law and order” party backing his subterfuge that Ukraine might have done it. Republicans: the party of lawless disorder.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who previously said: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump;” now defends: “In modern history, we’ve never gone after impeaching a president in the first term.” I could spend a whole class period to try to explain such a flip-flop without ever getting to the absurdity of the defense. The Constitution clearly does not give the President a free pass; Trump’s behavior is exactly what the founders wanted to be able to guard against.

To compare the “defense” with what Richard Nixon faced, it would be like Nixon turning over the tapes, but defenders saying “you cannot prove that is his voice,” or “he didn’t really mean what he said,” or “tapes are hearsay…” Except, as scary as it sounds, today’s Republican Senate would acquit Richard Nixon, they appear fully committed to letting Donald Trump get away with much worse. What will I say to students then?

The understanding must come from the conditions that have created this situation. The demographics are clear but incomplete: soul searching will not explain why 71 percent of non-college-educated white men (who voted) voted for a person who bragged about sexually assaulting women, no regard for the 25 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. It is the story of two realities. In the Trump-supporting narrative Hillary Clinton is a criminal who should be locked up, despite years of investigation and no findings of criminal wrongdoing. They say impeachment is to overturn a vote, but facts are not on their side. Defending Trump is like denying global climate change. The evidence is in. The man cannot seem to control his pathologies and his base, led by Fox News, dutifully drinks the Kool Aid.

Trump’s defense is all criminal. He believes that withholding evidence can save him. His defenders will claim that there is not enough evidence, but Trump ordered the obstruction of the investigations at every step of the way. He has made every effort to prevent evidence collection, but there are enough facts present to make serious conclusions about Donald Trump’s wrongdoing. The imminent threat is ongoing, both inside and outside of the White House. The truth is clear, Trump is guilty of abusing the power of his office and also obstructing Congress in its Constitutional requirement to oversee and balance executive power.

In the coming months students (and all Americans) will have to watch closely and think critically for themselves. They will have to decide what does the evidence show? They will have to decide whether or not their representatives put their country ahead of party—or vice-versa.

Those who see disloyalty to oaths will have to reclaim the power of the people. But we all have a responsibility to bridge the gap as well. Russian troll farms and purveyors of conspiracy theories have made dupes out of many Americans. There are also many more who feel hopeless or apathetic. Removing Trump from office may or may not happen by an act from the Senate, but there is serious healing that needs to take place in our communities and institutions either way. It will all take place against the moral backdrop of a criminal President and the question of whether or not the people will affirm that no one is above the law.wim l

The ultimate balance of power rests in the hands of the people. Donald Trump won the electoral college to become President, but he was not elected as King, and he is not above the law.

Wim Laven has a PhD in International Conflict Management, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Executive Boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association.