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Turning a blind eye to Trump’s Ukraine scheme is its own form of corruption | COMMENTARY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accompanied by, from left, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accompanied by, from left, Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill.(Andrew Harnik/AP)

In the aftermath of yet another Maryland political corruption case — former Del. Cheryl Glenn’s guilty plea to bribery charges — the new chair of Baltimore’s House delegation to Annapolis says more ethical reforms are needed for the General Assembly.

Oh, please.

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We’ve had plenty of reforms, going all the way back to the days of Spiro Agnew, the former Baltimore County executive and Maryland governor who, as vice-president of the United States, was exposed as a long-time crook. That was in the Watergate era, some 47 years ago. Ten months after Agnew’s exit, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency under threat of impeachment.

Since then, we’ve had new laws and rules governing those who govern us, and we still have corruption eruptions.

It’s not that all the good-government reforms were ineffective. But, in the public sphere, particularly in the white-collar world of politics and business, the difference between doing right and doing wrong comes down to three things you can’t legislate: a person’s moral fortitude, self-respect and sense of shame.

Moral fortitude is the most important, and Cheryl Glenn is the latest Maryland politician to let hers slip away.

The former state delegate pleaded guilty Tuesday to taking $33,750 in bribes — pretty much a flea-market rate for a ruined reputation — to support increasing the number of medical marijuana licenses in the state, to lessen the experience requirements for medical directors of drug treatment clinics, and to propose a new liquor license in her East Baltimore district.

(We don’t know who gave her the money yet, but many of us at The Baltimore Sun are eager to find out.)

Glenn appeared in court as, 40 miles away, President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial started in the U.S. Senate.

I listened as impeachment managers from the House laid out the case. Though quite familiar with the story by now, I found it a solid narrative of a sleazy attempt by the nation’s chief executive and his henchmen to extort a personal political favor from the president of Ukraine. It reminded me of some of the best opening statements uttered over the years by prosecutors in the federal courthouse in Baltimore, the difference being the effective use of video clips in the Senate presentation.

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Aside from the stack of evidence against the president, there was a strong philosophical argument made about impeachment itself. Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead House prosecutor, called it a constitutional remedy “as powerful as the evil it was meant to combat.” In our system, Schiff argued, if the Senate refuses to convict and oust Trump in the Ukraine matter, based on the significant evidence gathered by the House, then impeachment becomes nothing. And if impeachment becomes nothing, then we have an untouchable leader, a president (and future presidents) above the law.

Trump’s Senate trial takes us to the roots of our republican ideals. It’s a real-time history lesson that makes you cast aside cynical thoughts and reflect on high-minded things that sound corny when you say them out loud: Truth. Justice. The American Way. No man or woman above the law. “A government of laws, not of men,” as John Adams put it.

It’s stunning and depressing that Senate Republicans — 53 of the nation’s so-called grownups — appear ready to dismiss the whole matter as a mere political stunt by Democrats.

Which gets me back to moral fortitude, self-respect and a sense of shame. The Senate Republicans appear to have lost all three.

Consider the definition of moral fortitude that popped up during a quick Google search: “Moral fortitude is the strength of character to do the moral action in circumstances where there is much pressure to omit doing what is moral or even to do what is immoral.”

That was the first definition that came up. Read that again. Think about it.

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All humans are fallible. We all have flaws. History shows that we do not always elect men and women who consistently live up to the high ethical standards that we expect of them. In the near half-century since Watergate, we have seen numerous elected officials and leaders of corporations stumble and fall, surrender to temptations and to political and financial pressures.

And, however romantic or Mr. Smith-Goes-To-Washington quaint it might seem, we admire those who stand above it all, who respect the law, who listen to their consciences, who show some courage.

So, what’s really depressing, if not a real threat to the republic, is that a majority of the U.S. Senate is willing to abdicate its responsibility to set and maintain a standard for the conduct of the president, to see that he remains within the law, that he does not abuse the power we grant him.

If resisting and dismissing the charges against Trump is about keeping what they want — a president who stacks federal courts with conservative judges; who sets regressive policies on immigration, health care and the environment; who fires up a political base with crude and divisive rhetoric — then that makes the abdication even worse. It means that, instead of judging facts, Republican senators are merely reading polls, and only those of Republican constituents.

That requires no moral fortitude. It betrays a lack of self-respect and respect for their oaths. It shows no sense of shame. And it makes Republican senators little better than those corrupt politicians, Cheryl Glenn and others, who end up in the dock facing criminal charges.

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