As I write this column, U.S. senators are submitting written questions (yes, written) for Chief Justice John Roberts to read. Then, based on the person to whom it is addressed, either a member of the House manager's impeachment team or the president's defense team steps up to the lectern and proceeds to answer said question.

And the best part? Each answer — no matter from which side — is limited to five minutes.

Yes, you read that right. Not only are senators of either party denied the opportunity to stretch a 10-second written question into minuteslong bloviations of self-adoration, the respondents to said question are limited to, in political terms at least, a scant 300 seconds.

Questions written on cards, read by a neutral party, answered in five minutes or less.

Oh, if only we could make that rule permanent.

And as you are reading this column today, one of two things will have happened:

• Mitt Romney's John Bolton grand stand was succinctly dismantled and the Senate will have voted to acquit one Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States of America.

• Another New York Times anonymously sourced tabloid tale will have convinced just enough “hey look at me” Republicans to join with Democrats and the next few weeks, maybe even months, will be an unending replay of Oliver Twist asking, “Please sir, I want some more."

Opening up the Senate floor to witnesses at this stage would turn what has been a relatively sober process to date into the same circus forced upon us by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's unilaterally declared impeachment “inquiry.” But the real danger to the republic is that by doing the Democrats' bidding, a few self-serving Republicans have now set the precedent that the Senate is nothing more than a lackey for incompetent House investigators.

If it's the former, precedent and the independence of the Senate will have prevailed and our three co-equal branches of government are still intact.

If it's the latter, then a New York Post editorial put it best: “What fresh hell?”

Granted, given the lunacy that has become these times, there could still be a third option yet unforeseen, but that is a fate that sanity demands dare not be contemplated.

Yet either way, nothing will have changed.

Those of us who believe it is the House's job to investigate with fairness and due process will continue to point out the damage done by Pelosi's decision to replace precedent and protocol with partisan hatred.

And those who have spent the past three years spending every waking moment attempting to undo the results of the 2016 election will have already taken to their keyboards and are pounding out talking points faster than the Democratic National Committee can email them.

But fear not. Not all the news coming out of Washington last week was depressing.

While the Senate was swimming in the political swamp, the White House hosted a signing ceremony for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Known as the USMCA, it replaces the Bill Clinton-era NAFTA and brings with it additional jobs and investment for the U.S. auto industry and other manufacturing sectors, a removal of trade barriers for America's farmers, and wage and environmental leveling between the three nations. While the total effect on the overall economy is still being debated, after the millions of jobs lost and agricultural markets shrunk over the years with the old NAFTA, the leveling of the playing field that USMCA brings is nothing but good news.

And it even gets better. The best news I noticed came from the Gallup organization with this headline and opening paragraph:

"In U.S., library visits outpaced trips to movies in 2019."

"Visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far. The average 10.5 trips to the library U.S. adults report taking in 2019 exceeds their participation in eight other common leisure activities."

Yes, the library. As author Justin McCarthy notes in his summary: “Despite the proliferation of digital-based activities over the past two decades — including digital books, podcasts, streaming entertainment services and advanced gaming — libraries have endured as a place Americans visit nearly monthly on average.”

Endured, indeed. From the multimillion dollar gem right here in Joplin to the century-old Carnegie libraries still in use across the country, knowing that Americans still see the value of their local libraries is indeed a bright spot during some cloudy days.

And no matter how you read it, that is most definitely good news.

Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin. He can be reached at gc@caldwellscorner.com.

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