Like any other red-blooded American, I have been hooked on the impeachment proceedings. And, as literally every lawyer/politician/journalist/random person on the street will tell you, it is a purely political process. An entertaining political process, sure, but strictly politics through and through. And during these last few days, I’ve realized that this statement is more than obvious. It’s that good old-fashioned, all-American, George-Washington-is-rolling-in-his-grave kind of fight: Democrats vs. Republicans, and the gloves are off.
I couldn’t help but notice during the opening remarks from the first day of testimony a common thread in the opposition: calling for the whistleblower to testify. Jim Jordan, Republican representative from Ohio in particular, was adamant that the investigation needed the whistleblower to testify. After everything we’ve discussed in Media and the First Amendment, this is a dangerous idea.
The United States has a long and complicated history with whistleblowers. From Samuel Shaw in 1777 blowing the whistle on the Continental Army’s torturing of British POWs, all the way to Edward Snowden and the NSA compiling information on the general public in 2013, we tend to go after whistleblowers ruthlessly in this country. President Obama’s administration in particular targeted government whistleblowers with the Espionage Act, so much so many policy experts consider it to be an abuse of power— only 13 people in American history have been prosecuted for whistleblowing under the Espionage Act, 8 of which were during the Obama administration.
It’s ironic that for a country that boasts itself as the land of the free, whistleblowers are at best ostracized in their communities for being “traitors,” and at worst prosecuted by the government and put in jail. Liberty and justice for all, right? With exceptions.
Currently, however, I think the stakes can almost be considered higher than ever. It seems like it doesn’t need to be stated, but we’ve never seen a president like Donald Trump before. Any sort of guiding principle based on previous presidents is completely out the window. I worry about the (mainly) Republicans painting the whistleblower’s decision to stay anonymous and not testify as a character flaw, and therefore making them untrustworthy. It reminds me of the Fifth Amendment– anyone who is on trial for a crime cannot be forced to testify against themselves. It is rare that someone who is accused is put on the stand at all, and this does not indicate innocence or guilt. I only hope that they stay anonymous and when this part of American history is written about in textbooks, they are remembered as someone who was on the right side of history.