When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, sinking a substantial portion of the American Pacific Fleet, the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto said that he feared that what their attack had accomplished was “awakened a sleeping giant” and “fill]ed] him with a terrible resolve.” Yamamoto knew that Americans would not be weak-willed in the battle they had precipitated, and he knew that the industrial might of the powerful American economy would transform the unready American military into a mighty fighting force that the Japanese could not match.
America is under attack again. It is a different kind of attack, but no less important for the nation to rise up to counter, and fight with a “terrible resolve.”
The question of this moment is: Will this attack awaken a sleeping giant? In this case, not awaken in the form of the transformation of the economy to meet the requirements of war. Rather to awaken in the form of a determination of the American body politic to protect the American constitutional order.
The attack is described in a letter signed by more than 800 former Justice Department officials and U.S. Attorneys, appointed by Republican presidents (like Reagan and both Bushes) as well as Democratic.
In this extraordinary letter – an unprecedented effort of the cream of American justice to communicate to the American people something of great importance – these former officials declare that the Mueller Report shows clearly that President Trump has committed “multiple felonies” of a very serious sort.
“We…former federal prosecutors [who] served under both Republican and Democratic administrations at different levels… believe that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would in the case of any other person… result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”
The only reason Trump was not charged, the letter indicates, is that Justice Department rules make it so that only Congress can indict a “sitting President” for crimes he commits.
Trump’s “Obstruction of justice” is quite serious because these “multiple felonies” Trump committed were all in an attempt to block a most serious investigation into the President and his campaign. In other words, Trump committed these crimes to place himself “above the law.”
Trump is now claiming that the investigation was illegitimate. He is even calling it “treason.” But that idea is absurd on the face of it: all 17 of America’s intelligence services agreed that Russia – our nation’s major adversary in the world – was attacking the 2016 election, and having contacts with multiple members of the Trump campaign. How can it be “treason” to investigate such an attack. Indeed, it is closer to “treason” to attempt to block, divert, defeat the necessary investigation into that Russian attack.
1) Trump committed multiple crimes in defense of himself to defeat the rule of law – and now continues to defend himself with unprecedented denials of the constitutional role of Congress – and
2) now he’s taking clear and brazen steps to try to use the law on offense, most dangerously wielding the powers of his office to go after his enemies (like American law enforcement officials, American intelligence, and his most likely opponent in 2020, Joe Biden).
Whether a President is under the law, and whether the law is weaponized by the ruler, goes to the heart of what we are as a nation; it’s the essence of the order our founders gave us to protect our liberties and make government accountable to the people.
That’s why it is no exaggeration to say that the stakes in this presidential assault on the constitutional order are what House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler said:
“Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government, as other republics have over the centuries.”
This attack may not sink major American warships, like the attack on Pearl Harbor. But no attack could be more serious than one that “tests” whether we will keep our Republic or descend toward tyranny.
Which brings us to the question: is there a “sleeping giant” in America that can arise to make sure that we pass this test?
It’s not clear—not clear how much of America’s traditional commitment to the American system of government still dwells among the nation’s people.
The Republicans have chosen to support the attacker —and their slumber is deep.
Meanwhile the Democrats in Congress are not fully awakened:
Fearful that the American people will not support that step — even though our founders put impeachment into the Constitution for precisely such a dangerous moment like this one – the Democrats are holding off on impeachment, even though that is clearly what their oath of office requires in the face of such an attack..
It remains to be seen how much the Democrats will be aroused with that “terrible resolve” to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as every elected office holder must pledge to do before being allowed to wield power in our constitutional system?
With such resolve, the job for the Democrats surely must be to see if there is in the American people a force to be awakened, a resolve to see that the American system of government prevails.
Generations of Americans have revered the Constitution, and it has long been said that it is that shared commitment that makes us Americans. (Every new citizen must take an oath to “support and defend … against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”)
But maybe Americans have lost their allegiance to the system that we declare provides “liberty and justice” for all. And if it turns out there is no “sleeping giant” ready to defeat this attack, then perhaps we no longer deserve the gift of our inheritance.
But the Democrats cannot know how much force there is to mobilize in the American public — whether we can awaken the “sleeping giant” this dangerous moment calls for — until they go all out to awaken it.