There are two occasions when a person ought to reflect upon the words of John F. Kennedy’s: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. The first is during a time of war when citizens are asked to defend their nation. The second occurs in a period of political foment. At such times, voters are required to be informed. Those who imagine themselves too occupied with the events in their personal lives to study the facts imperil our democracy.
Gathering information implies a person should accept data with an open mind, functioning as a jurist who serves the good of the country. A key requirement is the willingness to distinguish fact from opinion. Facts are indisputable. A car, for example, is either red or it isn’t. Opinions vary. Is the color garish or sporty?
A good jurist must be aware that a witnesses may subvert facts by giving emphasis to some and discounting others. Congressman Jim Johnson did exactly that on Fox News, recently, when he attempted to dismiss a government report that found President Donald Trump guilty of illegally withholding money from Ukraine. The Congressman’s response was not an argument but a wave of his hand.
A good jurist is also familiar with the concept of cherry-picking: citing some but not all of the facts to lead a listener to a false conclusions. Again, Congressman Johnson’s interview is rife with such omissions. Listening to him, I was reminded of an old joke about a doctor who is on trial for malpractice. The prosecution enters into evidence a list of the doctor’s patients, all of them dead. What the attorney omitted was a single bit of information. The patients suffered from terminal cancers.
A good jurist must be alert to lies as well as evasions, too. During the course of her interview with Congressman Johnson, the Fox News host was guilty of one such lie. She said the President had a right to withhold Congressional funds dedicated to Ukraine. Whether her error was willful or not, I don’t know, but the President has no pocket veto when it comes to arms allocations. If he felt that moving the money forward posed a danger to the United States, his recourse was to bring his concern to the Congress.
Donald Trump took no such action. Instead, he put foreign policy matters into the hands of a private citizen, his personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani and his minions. Without the knowledge of Congress, these individuals attempted to negotiate new terms for the release of that Ukraine money–terms that appeared to be for Trump’s personal benefit rather than for the country’s.
The current debate before the Congress rests upon whether or not a President’s attempt to subvert the will of Congress is an impeachable offense. As the Constitution gives no guidance on the matter, the decision will rest not upon facts but upon the opinions of the various members of the Senate. They, alone, have the power to remove a president from office.
Whatever that outcome, the trial will not end with their decision. The final judgment about the direction of the country will rest with citizens in the 2020 election. That’s why voters have a duty to be informed. To those who remain ignorant yet think themselves patriots, I offer the words of Thomas Jefferson: If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.