BONNIE GREER: Trump is a long way down the rocky Rhode to ruin

PUBLISHED: 18:00 06 December 2019 | UPDATED: 22:09 06 December 2019

Rhode Island congressman David Cicilline is part of the House Judiciary Committee listening to evidence in the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry. Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rhode Island congressman David Cicilline is part of the House Judiciary Committee listening to evidence in the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry. Picture: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

2019 Getty Images

As she continues her state-by-state assessment of US politics, BONNIE GREER examines Rhode Island.

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There is a reason that the 1994 megahit Dumb and Dumber begins in Rhode Island. Many Americans know close to nothing about this state, nor its people.

So it was OK to put two rude mechanicals there. That seemed to fit the perception. Some Americans even believe that the 13th state to enter the union is actually an island - in fact, almost all of it is on the mainland.

Rhode Island actually takes its name from an island now known once again as Aquidneck - its original, indigenous name - which forms just part of the state.

As for how that area originally came to be called Rhode Island, there are various theories. One is that it was named by Italian explorers for the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, another that its red clay, or red autumn foliage, may have led Dutch sailors to describe is as a Roode Eylant, red island.

The official name of the state is 
Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and it is derived from the merger of four separate colonial settlements, including that founded by Roger Williams in what is now the state capital, Providence.

Williams, born in London in 1603, is considered the founding father of the state. A staunch Puritan, he was an advocate for religious freedom, for the separation of church and state and fair dealings with the indigenous peoples. He was one of the first abolitionists. Expelled from the Massachusetts Bay colony for his views, he studied indigenous languages and wrote the first book on their language.

Rhode Island was admitted to the Union on May 29, 1790, the 13th state to join.

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It was the first to renounce the crown and the fourth to ratify the Articles of Confederation. However it boycotted the convention that created the US constitution and was the last of the original 13 states to ratify it.

Contrary and staunchly independent, it is no wonder that the ground-breaking 1970s band Talking Heads was formed by alumni of one of the most prestigious art schools on the planet: Rhode Island School of Design.

But in spite of Rhode Island's rebellious reputation in regard to the constitution, its Congressman, David Cicilline, is set to defend it.

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he will be part of the Democratic Caucus listening to the evidence and making a judgement on how to proceed against Donald Trump. As the majority, it is the Democrats who will draw up articles of impeachment against the 45th president of the United States.

In the senate, however, the Republicans hold 53 of the 100 seats. It would require the votes of two thirds of senators - 67 - to convict Trump and remove him from office. In these hyper-partisan times, the likelihood of finding an octogenarian Elvis Presley alive and well in some rest-home hidden from view is more likely than securing that number of votes.

Congressman Cicilline has gone on record to state that he believes that most of the public have already made up their minds one way or another. The politicians seem to have, too. It is for this reason that many Democrats were reluctant to go down the route of impeachment in the first place.

But others have pointed out that support for the Nixon impeachment was low to start with, and then ticked up as the process continued. Eventually, the Republicans told him it was time to go. There seems no chance of that with the present GOP.

The political landscape is rocky, as rocky as the Rhode Island shoreline. Democrats have to decide when to draft the articles of impeachment and how quickly to bring them to the floor for a vote. Two quotes of Rogers Williams of Rhode Island seem pertinent: "Kings and magistrates are invested with no more power than the people entrust to them." And: "The sovereign power of all civil authority is founded in the consent of the people."

The House Judiciary Committee have a weighty responsibility in this pivotal moment in the history of the Republic. And Rhode Island will be there.

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