By any rational measure, President Trump deserves to be impeached for his conduct with Ukraine President Zelensky. Echoing Bill Clinton: whether that remedy is the best solution to the “problem” depends entirely on how you define “problem.”
To Democrats, having Trump in office is the problem. Getting him out of office, by any means necessary, is the solution. Be it impeachment, the 25th Amendment, forcing a resignation, or beating him in an election, they simply want him gone. Even crazy talk like Elizabeth Warren’s trashing of the Constitution’s means of electing a president gets a hearing because Democrats will go to any length to achieve a fantasy of not having Trump in the White House.
The phrase “stolen election” still gets plenty of play on Twitter. Democrats have stoked the flames of #Resistance by never accepting President Trump as their president. On one hand, balled into a raised fist, they are serious about removing him through impeachment, but on the other, open palmed hand, they are fundraising like hell on Trump, and letting that dictate their actions on impeachment.
House Democrats never agreed on the means to remove Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi always wanted to let Trump hoist himself on his own petard and beat him in 2020. But she was forced to accept impeachment, on a rushed scheduled, engineered by Adam Schiff, who had an impeachment hammer looking for any nail.
But that doesn’t mean Trump doesn’t deserve impeachment–as I wrote in my first sentence, he clearly does. David French makes a great case on why Congress has no remedy for what Trump did but impeachment.
The checks and balances of the American constitutional republic are far-reaching, and the framers—in their wisdom—established an ultimate check on the president. When no other structure of government can restrain his abuse of power, Congress can impeach him and remove him from office. When presidents promulgate unlawful rules and regulations, we can take them to court. When presidents announce unpopular policies, we can vote for their opponents. When presidents work in secret to substitute their personal priorities for the public good in a strategically vital region of the world, the conventional checks are unreliable. In that context, impeachment is the difference between punishment and permission when a president abuses his power while conducting affairs of state. Here’s the Legitimate Question that Should Dominate the Impeachment Trial, The Dispatch, January 21, 2020
From a Constitutional standpoint, this is the most important answer. The president must be kept in check and aggressively fenced in his use of the power of office, lest we end in tyranny.
However, Donald Trump has never been one to see things in black and white like that. In his view, the call was “perfect” because he feels he only needs to show that he believed the DNC server was hidden by Crowdstrike in some closet in a bar in Kyiv or the back room of a massage parlor in Kharkov. To Trump, it’s more important that people “believe me” than he acts according to the gravitas of the office he holds.
French’s colleague Jonah Goldberg summed it up in an LA Times op-ed: “The impeachment drama itself stems from the fact that no one can convince the president that the presidency is more than the whims, desires and ambitions of the person occupying the job.”
In other words: character matters. It matters in more than just elections and votes. Look at the damage Trump has done to evangelical Christianity and its witness to a spiritually starving nation. He has turned many pulpits into willing political stumps, with pastors parroting a man who by their own church’s standards would be removed from leadership in a heartbeat.
Character matters in governing also, and Trump is not the only president, or candidate, to commit grave offenses.
I think the biggest case for impeachment of Donald Trump is Richard Nixon. Not Watergate, not even when Nixon was president, but before that. Nixon, as a former VP with lots of foreign connections, interfered with a foreign power in order to derail peace talks with Vietnam.
“There’s really no doubt this was a step beyond the normal political jockeying, to interfere in an active peace negotiation given the stakes with all the lives,” said John A. Farrell, who discovered the notes at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library for his forthcoming biography, “Richard Nixon: The Life,” to be published in March by Doubleday. “Potentially, this is worse than anything he did in Watergate.”Nixon Tried to Spoil Johnson’s Vietnam Peace Talks in ’68, Notes Show, New York Times, January 2, 2017
Nixon went on to be president, who did worse things to gain re-election. I believe Watergate was worse than the Vietnam interference simply because Nixon did it as president. And what Trump did with Zelensky is worse than anything Trump might have done with Russia as a candidate because he did it as president.
If the nation knew what Nixon had done in 1968, he surely would not have been elected (giving us President Hubert Humphrey, or, uhm, George Wallace?). But Trump was elected despite the fact that we all saw how he surrounded himself with people who had ties to Russia. He was elected with all his character flaws known. If Trump is given a pass for doing what would have kept Nixon from the presidency, as president, we will go into his second term with no restraint whatsoever.
What’s Congress supposed to do then? Impeach him again. And they might, but what damage does that do to our nation? And what if they don’t impeach him again?
But Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and company have botched the one opportunity they had to do the right thing. They succumbed to political theater instead of pursuing their subpoenas in court. They grandstanded and preened for the media, and leaked like sieves instead of trying to build a case that would convince 19 Republican senators of Trump’s guilt. They are as guilty as Trump is of political malfeasance.
Actually, they are worse: Trump’s plot didn’t succeed. The Ukrainians got their aid money, there was no announcement of an investigation against the Bidens, and now this very impeachment trial may ironically help Joe Biden, leaving him alone as the big man on the campaign trail with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar tied up twelve hours a day in session. The Democrats in the House have ensured that Trump won’t be punished or even checked for his raw abuse of power.
Trump earned this impeachment, and I believe he even welcomes it. He wants to be fired upon without effect. He wants to suffer a trial, like a Greek tragic hero, and come out victorious. Now it’s very likely he will gain all those things, and America will be left with a president unconstrained by the checks and balances of the job–when operating in areas at the “apex of his constitutional powers.”
Were the Democrats serious about governing, and holding the president accountable, versus simply indulging their fantasies of removing him, we might have had a useful moment in American history. But sadly, we will learn nothing. There is a case for impeachment, but Democrats have spoiled it.