By Mike Matejka
As the U.S. House investigates President Trump, Rudy Giuliani and learns more about Ukraine then they ever thought they would need, the two political parties will use these forums for name calling, back-biting and accusation. In our hardened political atmosphere, rising above a defensive (or offensive) reaction, is going to take great skill. In the sound bite age, nuance is quickly lost amidst the charges and counter-charges.
Rather than rushing to judgement, declaring Trump a criminal before it concludes, or rushing to defense, claiming there is nothing to investigate, enough evidence is bubbling to the surface to warrant a thorough investigation. The American people deserve that.
Many of us are old enough to remember 1973, when the Senate Watergate hearings unfolded. Just like now, the country was polarized. The Vietnam War was ending badly, beleaguered citizens speaking up for human rights were accused of upsetting the status-quo and the economy was tanking. Nixon had just won re-election in a landslide, relegating poor anti-war candidate George McGovern to a sole win in Massachusetts.
Most Americans would not have predicted that the most riveting television the summer of ’73 was the Watergate U.S. Senate hearings. Much of that was because of “Senator Sam,” U.S. Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina. Ervin was not necessarily an edifying character – like most Southern Democrats from his generation, he was a segregationist, state’s right advocated and voted against the Equal Rights Amendment. He passed himself off as a “country lawyer,” though he was a Harvard Law School Graduate.
Looking back at that impeachment hearing, I’d like to share Senator Sam’s opening statement on May 17, 1973. The right tone is set here – due diligence. Serious allegations were raised and constitutionally, it was the Senate’s right to investigate and make a judgement. The Senator realized this was more than partisan politics – a healthy democracy depended upon a balance of power and a thorough but judicious evidence review. Here’s what the Senator said, see how well they apply today and set the tone we need:
“The accusations that have been leveled and the evidence of wrongdoing that has surfaced has cast a black cloud of distrust over our entire society. Our citizens do not know whom to believe, and many of them have concluded that all the processes of government have become so compromised that honest governance has been rendered impossible. We believe that the health, if not the survival, of our social structure and of our form of government requires the most candid and public investigation of all the evidence…. As the elected representatives of the people, we would be derelict in our duty to them if we failed to pursue our mission expeditiously, fully, and with the utmost fairness. The nation and history itself are watching us. We cannot fail our mission.”
Mike Matejka is the Governmental Affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, covering 11,000 union Laborers in northern Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. He lives in Normal. He served on the Bloomington City Council for 18 years, is a past president of the McLean County Historical Society and Vice-President of the Illinois Labor History Society. He currently serves on the Normal Planning Commission.
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