I have not come to support an impeachment inquiry lightly. I have been a reluctant participant in this investigation, not because I approve of the president’s conduct, his tone or his divisiveness, but because I believe that impeachment must remain a last resort, reserved for situations in which the safety of the American people and the integrity of our democracy are undoubtedly at risk. I now believe that they are.
It is clear that the president, by his own admission, has endangered our national security and the very foundation of our democracy, leaving Congress no choice but to move forward with an investigation, regardless of whether or not this inquiry is politically savvy. Congress has a duty to the American people, to our founding fathers and to our Constitution to follow the facts of this investigation where they lead, reinvesting our faith in the system to work as it was intended.
Growing up in Selma, Ala., ground zero for the struggle for civil rights, I was reminded every day of the powerful change that can be enacted by working within the system. My home church, Brown Chapel A.M.E., is where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. planned the Selma-to-Montgomery marches and where protesters sheltered on Bloody Sunday; on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which looms large over downtown Selma, my colleague and mentor, Representative John Lewis, was beaten bloody by billy clubs. There was rarely a family gathering or church function that didn’t include proud participants of the movement, their stories told and retold as a reminder to us all of what ordinary Americans are capable.
When we think about the civil rights movement, it is often within the framework of individual bravery. We tell the stories of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus or those nine children in Little Rock making their slow walk through the angry white mob that was hurling insults, spit and rocks, their shoulders braced and heads held high. We rightfully laud these acts of courage, without necessarily naming it patriotism, but the civil rights movement was fundamentally an act of patriotism. The foot soldiers of the civil rights movement were not trying to overthrow the government or upend democracy. They believed that our country could and should do better, and that the way to get there was through legal recourse and the checks and balances written into our Constitution.
As with the civil rights movement and countless other times in our nations’ history, we once again find ourselves, as a nation, standing on a precipice. The president of the United States used the full power of his office to solicit intervention from a foreign government in securing dirt against his political rival, while millions of dollars in foreign aid hung in the balance. This is evident within the White House memo of the call and by the president’s own admission.
These corrupt and dangerous actions imperil our national security and the cornerstone of our democracy by compromising the integrity of our elections. The president did not sit behind a registration booth, forcing American citizens to guess how many jelly beans were in a jar before allowing them to register to vote, but the transgression is equally damning.
Our national security and that of our allies across the globe is both fragile and interconnected. The president’s actions send a clear message to our enemies that he is willing to compromise our national interest and that of our allies for his own political and personal interest. This should alarm every American; I shudder to think of the potential national security ramifications of his communications with foreign leaders.
However, I believe in this country and I believe in our system’s ability to right itself. We have done it before and we will do it again. Patriotism is not looking at our past through rosy glasses and a revisionist history; it is having the courage to examine more closely those areas that are broken, and it is believing in the power of the system to fix them.
We do not know where this inquiry will lead or whether drafting articles of impeachment in the House will be the next appropriate course of action. To be clear, my support for an inquiry is not yet synonymous with support for removing the president from office.
What I do know is this: The president of the United States has endangered our national security and the strength of our democracy. By his own admission, he has betrayed his oath to the American people.
The patriots of the civil rights movement risked everything to make our union more perfect. Those brave individuals spoke truth to power about the ways in which our nation was not living up to the ideals upon which it was founded.
Our democracy is a work in progress, but we must ensure it is not taken hostage by those who put their own interests over those of the American people. It is the duty of Congress now to harness the legacy and the courage of the heroes of the civil rights movement and hold the president to account.
Terri Sewell (@RepTerriSewell) represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.