In this June 5, 2019, photo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington. Credit: Andrew Harnik | AP

House Democrats need to impeach President Donald Trump. Otherwise, they saddle themselves with the onus of stunning cowardice. Not just in the eyes of our descendants, but in terms of current electability.

As it stands, Democrats are defending the Constitution by choosing not to defend it. Trump’s dictatorial bent assails our tricameral system with the dark charisma of an insurgent white nationalism. Ominous warnings infuse his oratory.

Some, like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have taken the plunge and now stand for impeachment. Why does the leadership waffle?

The strategy, sadly, is to be political but unethical: to avoid doing what’s right — where right is based on the principle of challenging a burgeoning tyrant — until enough American citizens agree that it’s right. Even in terms of practical expediency, it is a pitiable bungle.

It means Democrats look passive. Like false leaders. Trump, on the other hand, comes across as seizing the helm, assertive, instead of letting the ship drift in the currents. Importantly, although his mendacity is well-known, Trump comes across as standing up for key constituent beliefs, whereas Democrats project timorous apprehension.

Strength versus weakness. Principled offense versus compromised defense. Which will 2020 prefer?

From a calculating perspective, some high-power Democrats think they can win next year by not rocking the boat. Polls show that a formidable number of voters refuse to cast a ballot for Trump. Encouraging, also, is the momentum that flipped control of the House. However, the zeitgeist of each political season is a fickle thing, and the mindset of voters is often misread, sometimes egregiously. Witness, for instance, the much predicted Hillary Clinton victory that never came to pass. Quantitative crunching cannot encapsulate qualitative irreducibles.

Democrats still aren’t facing the framing factors that toppled both party machines in 2016. It’s fair to say that all voters want candid candidates. They want leaders who say and do what they believe. High on the list of odious traits is mealymouthism.

Right now, it is the Democrats who own mealymouthism. Trump can legitimately say he is pushing to build the wall and punish China. Can the Pelosians say they are defending the Constitution by holding Trump accountable? House leadership says they are aware of the imminent, extreme danger that Trump presents, and yet they refuse to employ the constitutional powers assigned to them, for the very purpose of protecting the United States from people like our current president. Doesn’t this indicate deceit, a rhetorical sleight-of-hand?

Some say that impeachment proceedings will insure that Trump gets to “run against the House.” Guess what? He’s going to run against the House no matter what. Spineless vacillation will make it even easier. It’s easy to imagine how it will go: “Look at ’em. They don’t even have the guts to try and impeach me, folks. Why? Because they know I’m clean. It’s all a witch hunt, folks.”

Another objection is that, after the House votes for impeachment, the Senate won’t vote to convict. This argument gets things backwards. Senate complicity in tyranny is all the more reason to stand up to tyranny. Please, let’s avoid the metaphor of a nuclear power plant meltdown, a situation in which none of the fail-safes meant to prevent a catastrophe actually tripped.

Failsafe devices don’t have a conscience. Presumably our Democratic leadership does. And if they don’t act, their utter debacle will engrave itself not just on the history of the United States, but also world civilization.

Chris Crittenden of Lubec teaches ethics at the University of Maine at Machias. His views are his own and do not represent those of any group with which he is affiliated.