I’ve been thinking about the impeachment of Donald Trump a lot. I’ve changed my mind about how I feel about progressing a number of times, and I think I’ve come to a conclusion I’m satisfied with.
I don’t think he should be impeached. It’s not a simple decision, nor is it one I find totally satisfying, but I think in that direction lies wisdom – and an alternative that works just as well…
Maybe. If it doesn’t work as well, then impeachment wouldn’t be workable in any event.
Note: I’ve amended this article to factor in information that was new to me. It affects some of the reasoning I used, and invalidates some it. I am not absolutely sure it changes my conclusion, although it does serve to diminish some of the “moral authority” used by the GOP in defense of Trump. See the bottom of the article for the correction.
On January 6, a group of goons attacked the Capitol of the United States. They invaded Congress; six people (I think!) ended up dead. It was as unfocused an attack as much of the violence over the past year has been, without clear goals and with no real hope of success outside of general mayhem (and causing a response to it).
It was violence for the sake of violence. It was inspired and enabled by two primary sources.
One encouraging source for the violence was the lackadaisical response to the riots over the past year, which had many politicians excusing it as “the only valid response to offense” (hint: it wasn’t) or supporting those who were arrested for participating. This was at nearly all levels of government, including members of the current House of Representatives and, for that matter, Vice President Harris, who offered to help arrange succor for those who rioted. Ironically, some of those same Representatives were, um, rather upset at the riots at the Capitol, when they themselves might have been in danger.
The other encouraging source was President Trump himself. By insisting the election that he lost was stolen, and by dropping hints that people weren’t going to take it, he created an environment ripe for his supporters to make a decision to act on his behalf.
It’s conceptually no different than the riots over the past year, of course, but he was the President. He had a responsibility to serve even those who defeated him, and represent their aims. His verbiage was not a direct incitement – at no point that I’m aware of did he actually direct rioters to act – but he leveraged a situation and social environment where such action was implicitly approved, in perception.
On January 7 or thereabouts (I didn’t keep a diary or timeline), I was furious at Trump. I remain furious at him. My mostly-negative feelings about him were fanned into flames of active dislike of his Presidency, and I felt that Representative Pelosi should have written articles of impeachment that morning and walked them over that morning and the Senate should have removed him that afternoon. Mike Pence would become President for two weeks, mostly babysitting a peaceful transition, Trump would be walled away in his crib, yowling all the while, and his role as Commander in Chief would be muted; his followers would have been enraged, but they were likely to be enraged already because he had lost the election.
Why wait, after all? If Trump actually incited insurrection – regardless of how silly it looks strategically – then he’s acting against his own office and role. There’s no question about duty here; his legal challenges to the election were legitimate (albeit silly, and largely thrown out on merit) but once those legal challenges were presented and dismissed, the election was over and it’s time to accept defeat graciously, for the sake of the Union he says he loves. Continuing to grind the same bitter axe diminishes America, and that makes him unfit for office, especially when people take him seriously.
So waiting… that means that either the case against him is actually weaker than it appears… or the Democrats were afraid when they needed courage most.
If the impeachment case is weaker than it appears, then impeachment would be difficult; they’d already tried to impeach Trump once with really weak decision-making (if you’re going to impeach, you do it with the expectation to win, or you don’t proceed; there was no chance, with a GOP-majority Senate, that an impeachment was going to succeed based on a politically-driven interpretation of a transcript) and in this case Trump’s own use of language would defend him.
If the Democrats were afraid, then… golly, we need to have a general recall, not just an impeachment. Remove Trump, sure… but remove the members of Congress, too. They’re already corrupt, given their support for breaking the law over the last year; they already capitulated to the Presidency in various ways. Chuck Schumer actually said that President Biden should use his Emergency Powers to act to work around Congress – and note that Senator Schumer is a member of Congress. That’s an abrogation of duty. Schumer can find common cause with the President all he likes, but abrogation of his duty is … wrong. He shouldn’t be advocating for ignoring the checks and balances our Constitution set in place.
The Democrats in Congress, if they felt they had a case for impeachment, should have had the stones to act. And act quickly. They should have been brave, and chosen fearlessness, and trusted the country to do right, in the end.
If they had an actual strong case for impeachment and held back, then they were wrong. They were false. They betrayed the country just as much as Trump did. That’s just as treasonous, in a different way, as Trump.
The alternative to them being sniveling cowards who don’t deserve their positions is that the case for impeachment was too muddy to be effective. This is more likely honestly. They can still be sniveling cowards, of course, but I still feel the case for impeachment requires vague interpretation of paralipsis, which is not a trivial undertaking to be approached lightly. (See the Kavanaugh hearings, as well as the first Trump impeachment.)
So a few weeks later, with impeachment being stalled, Biden became President in a mostly-peaceful transfer of power. There were sparks, of course; Antifa burned the Democratic Party headquarters in Portland, if memory serves, because they’re like a dog that has no master; when Trump was President, the Democrats were all “aw shucks, boys’ll be boys” and once Biden became President the Democrats became the target, being substantially the same as the Republicans: the party holds power, not the people.
I despise Antifa because they’re stupid (there are few actual fascists around, including Trump, and I find goal-less violence to be absurd and gross and evil) but at least they’re consistent.
Yet the impeachment of Trump continues.
He’s already out of office. His legal standing in the government is not going to change if he is successfully impeached; he’s not a member of the government now.
There are two possible goals. One is shaming him, and the other is preventing him from office in the future.
Shaming him… honestly, I’m not sure this makes any sense. This is Donald Trump we’re talking about here; his sense of shame is not especially well-developed, or else he’d struggle to be, well, Donald Trump. I admire an internal locus of control, having one myself, but Trump’s locus of control is so internalized that he approaches the appearance of sociopathy. The “shame” for Trump was in losing the election; nothing afterward is going to make much of a difference, it’s just piling on and he would use it to further his grievance.
Plus an intent to shame someone feels faintly gross to me, because it feels so personal. I feel like it’s motivated by dislike; I don’t care if someone doesn’t like Trump (I don’t like Trump myself) but attacking someone out of dislike … lacks honor and integrity. It’s the act of a bully… a description that is often used to describe Trump, as well. It’s a return to McCarthyism. We don’t need that. We shouldn’t want that.
Preventing him from seeking office in the future, though… that holds water for me. Trump represents a brand of crazy I don’t want to risk, and I can see the Democrats and the media encouraging another Trump in the future; I don’t think they’ve learned much from 2016 or 2020. (They selected Harris as VP, after all.) I would hope that the GOP would be smarter than to fall for the same trick twice but there’s no guarantee. The Democratic trick from 2016, after all: “Let’s give that moron a platform, and give him the illusion of momentum, which turns into real momentum, and he’ll eliminate the good GOP candidates and our terrible candidate will surely win! … wait, our bad candidate lost to their worst candidate?”
Thanks for that, Democrats. Yes, I blame the Republicans. And I blame you, too.
Does preventing Trump from seeking office again really help, though? It’s hard to tell. Trump’s old, remember. In three years, will he want to run again? Will the GOP be so stupid as to vote for him again, when he’s proven that a milquetoast like Biden could beat him in the general election? (This is why he keeps banging the drum of an illegitimate election, to avoid this conclusion; but in courts, when given the chance to make their point about stolen elections, the judges laughed them out of court on merits, regardless of the politics of the judges. This isn’t a good sign for a “stolen election.”)
So my thought is that an impeachment serves little purpose except to muddy the waters for Biden’s early Presidential term. I don’t care for Biden – he’s a milquetoast and I think he’s a puppet for people I do not trust – but I still want his term to be successful, because I’m an American. An impeachment focuses on the target of the impeachment, not the current sitting President; the impeachment is effectively that of a private citizen at this point. (Author’s note: see the end of the article. This last sentence is less relevant than I had thought it was, when the article was written.)
So: cancel the impeachment.
If Trump actually committed crimes for which an impeachment would be justified were he still in office, then classify those crimes as federal crimes and prosecute them as such.
If that wouldn’t meet a legal barrier for the burden of proof, then the impeachment would fail among similar lines; that’s not a trial, that’s a witch hunt. If the accusations would be undeniable, legally, then Trump is convicted, and he’s barred from future office; everyone wins.
No impeachment necessary.
Of course, after I wrote this, news broke that Trump’s legal defense team resigned, because he insisted on a legal strategy that wouldn’t hold water and apparently continues to do so.
Trump is not much of a stable genius for someone who’s such a stable genius. He acts mostly like a childish bully.
At this rate, who can say? Maybe an impeachment would actually work, against all odds and expectations, because Trump’s such a dope.
After I’d had this published for most of a day, a discussion with a friend in which I used some of the same logic I presented here turned out to be wrong.
I’m leaving the original content in place, although I’ve marked it, because I’m an honest person and I said what I said, even if it was in error.
Basically, my assertion was that the 45 GOP senators who’d said they’d not vote to impeach Trump had some constitutional grounds, as Trump is a private citizen now. It turns out that this is not true – the Senate has impeached an official who is no longer in office: Secretary of War Belknap, in 1876. The impeachment was not successful, but that’s not relevant. The key is that impeachment after the office has been vacated has been attempted, so precedent exists.
I still think a federal trial is a wiser approach, but I can’t pretend that’s supported by Constitutional history.
Conviction on an impeachment serves more than to just remove someone from office. It prevents them from taking office in the future, and removes their ability to continue to siphon money from the government (for example, by insisting that secret service protection assigned to him pay an exhorbitant rate at his hotel, which is his home).
To say that the delay of a few days between the riot (January 6) and the impeachment (January 13) indicates cowardice by the Democrats or that the charges are unsound is setting up an unreasonable standard. Surely there is not a one week statute of limitations?
So you’re for impeachment. Works for me, although I still think a felony charge is wiser. C’est la vie.
Neal, I’m curious: Why wait? At all?
Let’s take it as an assumption that on Jan 6, it was clear Trump was a threat to the Union – big stretch, right? Was there ANY question? For anyone other than people blindly supporting him?
And when was there danger of such threat? Was it abstract, something that might have been a few days off, or a few weeks off, or a few months… or years? No. It was the PRIOR FREAKING DAY.
So you have active, clear, obvious danger to the Union, inspired by a demagogue whose words inspired an actual, if incompetent and doomed, insurrection; where’s the VALUE in delaying at all?
I can’t see any. Explain it to me like I’m five. I don’t see what big decision would hold up such a decision as immediate removal of an immediate threat… unless he’s not actually an immediate threat as we’ve been told (and as is obvious, really.)
So a federal charge actually carries with it a felony charge as well, which accomplishes the “you ain’t gonna be President any more” with it, unless Biden pardons him, I suppose… so you’d have the removal of politics, no witch hunt, an actual trial, and the timing is still irrelevant.
Sorry that I can’t be as loyal to the Democrats as you can be; I find such loyalty repugnant in the Republicans who support Trump, and I find it just as distasteful in Democrats.