The movement to impeach President Trump is in some respects a movement for a kangaroo court. But we should support it anyway.
Outcome over process
It’s a kangaroo court for two reasons. The first is that impeachment is a political process. Therefore, it’s always going to smell a little like a kangaroo court. Presidential impeachment is essentially about marshaling the votes to remove a president from office.1 That’s true even if a president is caught on tape saying unironically, “I’ve just committed a high crime or misdemeanor,” elaborating in colorable detail exactly how he did so, and noting what easily obtainable evidence will further document the crimes.
The second reason is that since November 2016, we’ve had a large number of prominent people calling for Mr. Trump’s impeachment. They seemed to be doing so in the belief that of course Trump was guilty of an impeachable offense. After all, he’s Trump. You may object that I have no citation and that I have done no systematic study of calls for his impeachment. Point and match. It probably stings a bit to be accused of something by someone who has already decided you’re guilty before seeing the evidence. But remember that sting, in case you need to deal with others who aren’t quite on board with the program.
Why I support impeachment (for now)
Speaking for myself and copping to a certain sympathy for anti-anti-Trumpism, I’ve supported removal from office by some legal means since day one. Probably, that is. It’s easy for me to project my current views backward. But I seem to recall believing Trump was and is manifestly unfit for office. He is dangerous and incompetent, and he purposefully draws his support by appeals to racism and xenophobia that lack even the fig leaf of dog whistles.
But I can’t claim I support impeachment because Trump has broken the law. He probably has, and maybe some of that lawbreaking rises (or falls) to the level of “high crimes.” But I haven’t personally viewed the evidence, and I’m not a lawyer. Perhaps Trump has committed “misdemeanors” in the etymological sense of “ill-behavior, evil conduct, fault.” And maybe that’s what the founders had in mind when they said “misdemeanors” merited impeachment. But I’m chary of using that argument because I’m not a convert to originalism, as many, many of the current supporters of impeachment seem to be.
I’ve put my case more starkly than I really believe. I said above that impeachment is “essentially” about marshaling votes. But I don’t fully endorse the might makes right mentality that comes with that claim. I do think process and legality are important. I also believe it’s possible to take a principled stand for impeachment and against abuses of power and bigotry, even if we stipulate that no crime has been committed. (For those keeping score, I’m not denying a crime has been committed. I’m saying it’s possible to take a principled stand for impeachment even if a crime hasn’t been committed.)2
Over the past few months I’ve waffled over impeachment.3 At times, I’ve worried whether it was prudent. I still fear that going for impeachment–now–might help reelect Trump, although unlike fellow OT’er Andre, who makes the contrary claim, I have no evidence and have done no research. But at other times I’ve said the House should impeach because doing so would be the right thing, even if it fails.
For now, I’ll just say I support impeachment. And if it happens, I’ll support conviction by the Senate, even if that means 9 years of President Pence. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow.
At any rate, impeachment, for good or bad reasons, will lead to effects. Those effects will be some mix of desirable and undesirable. What shape they’ll take, I don’t know. But if those of us who pursue impeachment don’t do so wisely, and especially if we succeed, we may regret it. Here’s my unsolicited advice for going about it:
- Acknowledge our own motivated reasoning. We’re not fooling anyone. Even if we are, I’m not so sure we should abandon truth in favor of expediency.
- Ditch the purity test. For the senate to convict, we have to get support from some Republicans who some of us might detest.
- Save the “lock him up” chant for later. The chant is fair, both because Trump has earned it and because turnaround is fair play. But the question of punishment is a tomorrow problem.
- Speaking of “tomorrow problems,” let’s remember that a successful impeachment won’t magically change the minds of those who have supported Trump in the first place.
- Keep our eyes on the prize. Is the point to remove the president by some legal means or to do what’s right? If the former, then let’s treat impeachment like a tool toward that end and weigh its utility appropriately against other options, like winning the next election. If it’s only about doing what’s right, then let’s go for broke. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but in some circumstances, they might be. Let’s prepare for the possibility that we may have to choose.
Photo credit: In Sapho We Trust, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon at Madame Toussaud’s London. Creative commons: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic. CC BY-SA 2.0.
- I’m leaving aside the important point that non-presidents can be impeached, too. I’m talking only about presidents in this OP.
- Really! I mean it! If you respond to this post with some variant of “how dare you say Trump hasn’t committed a crime?!,” I’ll get very cranky. I’ll admit, however, that arguing my own view is besides the point because Trump has done x, y, or z is fair.
- Good thing I’m just a pseudonymous blogger and not a congressperson or someone whose views actually matter.