Impeachment Impressions from a Hemisphere Away

While the Senate impeachment trial unfolded in Washington, we were half a world away, visiting Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on a trip planned months before. While south of the equator, we were only vaguely aware of the reports that former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s upcoming book included allegations directly implicating President Trump in the events at issue in the Impeachment trial, of the controversy surrounding Trump Defense Lawyer Alan Dershowitz’ bizarre argument in the president’s defense, and of the speculation as to whether the Senate would call additional witnesses.

One of the highlights of our visit was a tour of Rio’s historic district, Centro, provided to us by Daniel, an extremely personable and truly trilingual Carioca. (I came to the city understanding that all Rio residents were Cariocas; with a twinkle in his eye, Daniel advised me that one needs to be born in Rio to truly be considered a Carioca; mere Rio residence, no matter how lengthy, is not enough to qualify.) He quickly felt like a friend. He has an extensive background in Brazilian history. Well into the tour, I asked him about an article that had run that week in the major Brazilian daily, O Globo, which reported that Transparency International had placed Brazil in the bottom half of all of the world’s countries in its Corruptions Perceptions Index. (Full Disclosure: O Globo is published in Portuguese; this was the only article I could decipher all week because “corrupcao” readily translates to “corruption,” and the piece depicted by graph Brazil’s corruption ranking among the world’s nations.)

Brazilians have contempt for most of their politicians, due to the country’s level of corruption. Of their three prior presidents, one has been convicted of corruption, a second faces charges for leading a “criminal organization,” and the third has been impeached within a context that she had served as Chairwoman of Petrobras, the semi-public Brazilian oil and gas company, at a time when billions derived from Petrobras operations were illicitly changing hands at Brazilians’ expense. Other Brazilian officials are in prison due to illegal enrichment related to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Daniel hadn’t seen the O Globo article, but wasn’t surprised by it; he is angry at the level of corruption in his country. As an example, he pointed to the new train tracks at our feet, installed in the historic district’s cobblestone streets prior to the Olympics to facilitate transportation during the Games, and indicated that the project ended up costing Brazilians millions of Brazilian Real (R$) more than necessary, due to kickbacks. He is an enthusiastic supporter of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current right-wing President elected in 2018. President Bolsonaro is a nationalist and a populist. As widely reported, Mr. Bolsonaro is skeptical of environmentalists’ claims about the Amazon, and favors more development in the region. He opposes socialism and LBGT rights. But Daniel made a passing reference only to Mr. Bolsonaro’s positions on the Amazon, instead emphasizing a factor rarely mentioned in the Western media: Mr. Bolsonaro appears to be honest – a unicorn in Brazilian politics. Although a member of the Brazilian national legislature for decades, he was not tainted by any of the scandals that have felled his predecessors. He ran on a pledge to reduce crime and root out corruption. Daniel believes his country has greatness within it. He sees that it can only be achieved through honest government.

The contrast between Daniel’s belief in Mr. Bolsonaro’s honesty and Daniel’s aspirations for his nation, on one hand, and Mr. Trump’s tribal-driven impeachment acquittal, on the other, could not be starker. U.S. TN Sen. Lamar Alexander stated before the vote: “There is no need for more evidence to conclude that the president withheld United States aid, at least in part, to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens; the House managers have proved this … The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did …. [Mr. Trump’s removal via impeachment] would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist …. Let the people decide [Emphasis Added].”

U.S. NE Sen. Ben Sasse stated: “Let me be clear, Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us.”

U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio stated: “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a President from office. I will not vote to remove the President because doing so would inflict extraordinary and potentially irreparable damage to our already divided nation. [Emphasis Added].”

While there is certainly merit to the argument that Mr. Trump’s removal from office via impeachment could incite potentially irreparable divisions between our people – an apprehension held by one very close to me – I would nonetheless submit that for Senators who have taken an oath to protect the Constitution, such concern should have been irrelevant, and is no more than a self-serving rationale designed to protect the Senator’s own political position and/or legacy. Messrs. Rubio and Sasse, and those Republican Senators whom Mr. Sasse claimed Mr. Alexander “spoke for,” have, as was the case with former Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan, abdicated the responsibility placed upon them by the Constitution rather than confront Mr. Trump. We are sacrificing to partisanship, greed, and fear our dedication to right, truth, and justice that the Brazilian tour guide and billions around the world yearn for: the very characteristic that actually made us great.

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