Can Senators become impartial?

“An impeachment trial is a political process. So, it makes perfect sense for us to expect votes cast by Senators to be partial on both sides.” So runs the common perception to which so many of us have stooped these days. I reject this cynical point of view. Senators should make impartial decisions, even when pressured by constituents and colleagues to be partial … but sadly, will do so only if we hold them to that standard. If we don’t, all bets are off.

In the case of an impeachment trial, it’s predictable that some Senators, if not all, will favor acquittal or conviction based on their political affinity (or lack thereof) with the accused. Impartiality, in this circumstance particularly, requires a Senator’s sincere commitment to decide the trial’s verdict fairly and in accordance with evidentiary facts and applicable law, despite recognition of some initial bias.

When Senators take the oath in an impeachment trial, they swear that their decision to acquit or convict will be based on their impartial reading of evidence and law and not on their political leanings. Acts of impartiality are those based on the compelling nature of the testimony and documents presented in the trial. Conversely, acts of partiality, whether toward or against the accused, occur when corresponding mindsets and party loyalties determine an individual’s vote instead.

Everyone enters such a trial as a partial juror. Those who exclude witnesses and documentary evidence remain partial. Only those who welcome witnesses with relevant information and who, despite their biases, strive mightily to make judgments based on evidence, are capable of rendering an impartial decision. But, how can fair judgment based on evidence be made if none is considered or allowed?

Impartiality is fairness. Partiality is unfairness. It’s a sad commentary that we’ve come to expect so little of our elected officials, and automatically assume that politicians will behave and decide in exclusively partisan ways. Sadly, we’ve come to believe that not only is everything fair in love and war (which, indeed, is bad enough), but that everything is fair in politics, as well.

As someone once observed, cynicism isn’t wisdom; it simply masquerades as such. Nor is it a license to label principled individuals as naive. Instead, cynicism is more a disdainful demand by those who live in a kind of “Bill O’Reilly No-Spin Zone” (an oxymoron, most assuredly) to be recognized as omniscient while all other opinions are rejected. In fact, as the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca once wrote, “Cynicism is the last refuge for cowards.”

In high school, we used to joke, using a bastardized Latin saying that went: “Beati qui non expectabuntur, quia non disappointabuntur;” that is, “Blessed are those who expect nothing … they will not be disappointed.” We’ve come to expect nothing of our politicians. Truly, we’ve come to expect the worst from them … and they have not disappointed us.



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