Freedom takes work. That’s the first and most important thing to remember. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. One has to remember why one wants to be part of a community of free and equal citizens. Right now the protesters in the streets of Hong Kong are for me the most vivid reminder. They lost their right to elect their leaders in a deal where the protection of their material well-being through the Chinese economy was supposed to be enough for them. Now they are feeling what it’s like to have material well-being but no sound guarantee of civil liberties — as part of a regime where people are jailed and disappeared for their opinions; where ordinary people cannot use their votes and voices to convert their aspirations for society into legislative action.
It’s easier to keep than to regain freedom. If we love the chance to be free and equal citizens in a constitutional democracy, we’ll have to put in the miles, like a marathoner. We know it’s easier to stay fit than to get in shape, so we go to the gym. Freedom’s no different. And this is not to trivialize it. Health for the spirit and health for the body are two great foundations of human well-being.
So if the goal is keeping a society of free and equal citizens, what’s the right course?
There are sound reasons to support the impeachment process. There appears to be considerable evidence — from both the Mueller report and the House inquiry — that President Trump has violated both the law and the Constitution, in particular his constitutional oath to exercise faithfully the powers of the office. There is also good reason to think, as I have argued previously, that these violations do rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
From another point of view the argument is often made that Trump has done wrong but that our marathon course should run through the voting booth, not the impeachment process: Let the electorate make the call. This argument leaves me incredulous given where we are in the course of events. The president appears to have attempted to direct the considerable powers of his office toward eroding the integrity of the electoral process. This is like saying that we should let the outcome of the boxing match determine whether the guy accused of having lead in his gloves has lead in his gloves.
There is an argument for supporting Trump that I can understand: You voted for the guy. You committed to him. You believe in all of your commitments, including your political ones, in the same way you believe in marriage. You’re already running a marathon and you’ve got marathon spirit. You’ll stick with him. That’s a reason I not only understand but also respect.
But give me that reason. Don’t hide behind the argument that the issue we’re dealing with now could be addressed via an election.
And if you do give me that reason about commitment, I would still ask you one more question: whether there might be another commitment worthy of your equally steadfast conviction. It is captured in the closing lines of the Declaration of Independence when the Founders affirmed: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” They didn’t pledge even to George Washington. They pledged to democracy and one another.
Yes, if you committed to Trump, I am asking you to consider switching sides because our highest loyalty should be to one another and our constitutional bond. I respect your commitment. But I am asking you to attend to another one. If you find you can, let your representative in Congress know that you have done so.
And if you do, those of us who have earlier judged in favor of impeachment also must make a change. Let there be no shaming, let there be no ostracism, let there be no shade thrown if now fellow Americans who have supported Trump choose to recommit. We will owe them the same recommitment, not to party but to one another. We could all stand to renew and revitalize our core commitments to constitutional democracy and our constitutional bond, and to the decency to one another necessary to sustain them.
Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Post.