Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution states that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Just four months into Donald Trump’s presidency, we have rumors of the first, suspicions of the second, and pretty good evidence, furnished by the president himself, of the third.
A heated debate has broken out on the left as to whether and how hard Democrats should push for Trump’s impeachment. Would his removal from office be a cure worse than the disease, or is the incumbent president such an immediate threat to life on Earth that getting him out of the White House is worth any political cost? We asked four writers to address the question.
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In the wake of the latest torrent of leaks, a lot of Democrats are pushing for Trump’s impeachment. I don’t get the reasoning behind this urge. Leaving aside the unlikelihood of a Republican Congress actually doing the deed, it seems to me the best strategy is to keep this incompetent naïf in the White House as long as possible. His managerial ineptitude, unapologetic repulsiveness, and endless capacity to generate scandal are the best hope for those of us who seek to prevent the GOP from instituting its nefarious agenda.
Trump’s impeachment would bring us President Mike Pence—a profound horror. He’s a fiscal sadist, misogynist, homophobe, and lover of the carceral state. He’s a creationist who rejects climate change, thinks stem-cell research is “obsolete,” and once actually said that “smoking doesn’t kill.” His anti-abortion law in Indiana was the most extreme in the country. Like Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Pence is a maximalist on drugs, including weed. He’s hot to privatize Social Security. He’s likened the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare to 9/11.
It’s quite likely that Trump’s removal would lead to the political equivalent of what Wall Street calls a “relief rally.” There would be an attempt, coming from “responsible” Democrats and sober pundits, at orchestrating a moment of national healing. Gerald Ford’s pronouncement on Richard Nixon’s resignation that “our long national nightmare is over” would be invoked as a precedent. Historian Douglas Brinkley has already gotten a jump on that, telling Politico, “[Ford was] much like Pence in temperament and personality. He doesn’t have that acerbic side that Nixon and Trump had…. [H]e has made so few enemies.”
If Pence became president, Republicans would find it much easier to take advantage of their dominance of Congress than they have so far. Unlike Trump, Pence has plenty of political experience—twelve years in Congress, four years as governor of Indiana. He knows how things work. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to assume that much of the Republican agenda would sail through Congress in a matter of weeks.
In the meantime, Trump is doing major damage to the right. Republican pundit Erick Erickson recently worried in the Washington Post that Trump is “deeply destructive to the national fabric and to the conservative ideas I support,” and that his presence in the Oval Office could lead to an electoral “bloodbath” in 2018. Those sound like appealing possibilities to me.
Then there’s the unseemly fact that much of the case against Trump appears to be coming from leaks from intelligence agencies to a press eager to report them as “scoops.” As awful as he is, do we really want to legitimate a precedent by which the likes of the CIA—an organization with seven decades of experience at thwarting democracy—can drive an elected president from office?
What we urgently need now is for the Democrats to develop an appealing political alternative to the conservative agenda. Fantasies of Trump’s removal from office are a distraction from that task and an obstacle to the development of that alternative.
Our Solemn Obligation
We need to impeach and remove this president. Now. It is not only the smart and strategic course of conduct for progressives, but I believe that it is our moral obligation to the other people on this planet.
The current vice-president is certainly more sinister, because he is more competent, but that reality is outweighed by the danger and destruction we face from the person presently occupying the Oval Office.
Donald Trump is a threat to civilization. Having someone as impulsive, childish, immature, insecure, and vain as he is in charge of the most powerful military force in the history of the world is terrifying. As conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote recently, Trump has the personality of a child, and “A child cannot be president. I love my children; they cannot have the nuclear codes.” To reduce the threat of a nuclear holocaust, it is our solemn duty to remove the man serving as president from office as quickly as possible.
The second reason Trump is actually more dangerous than Mike Pence is that he has validated unapologetic and virulent racism and xenophobia in America. Far too little attention has been paid to the terror that has been unleashed in communities of color and among immigrant families since November. While racial discrimination and prejudice have been part and parcel of the American experience since English settlers arrived in Virginia in 1607, few, if any, successful candidates for president have been as openly hostile to and contemptuous of people of color as Trump has. It’s no accident that Trump’s campaign followed the presidency of the country’s first black president. Those people uncomfortable with and antagonistic to America’s changing racial demographics found in him a champion for their bigotry. They put him in the White House. Now he needs to be removed.
Finally, the political terrain for fighting against Pence would be more favorable for progressives than the unpredictability of elections with Trump in power. Trump essentially made an extraordinarily risky gamble that racism would be enough to power him to the pinnacle of politics. By doubling down on long-simmering racial resentment, he was able to galvanize large numbers of white voters who had previously suffered in silence. That made the election close enough to steal the closely-contested states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, especially in the face of an opposition so divided that many Democratic voters defected to third- and fourth-party candidates. Pence is more cautious and does not generate similar enthusiasm among white voters, so the coalition that twice elected Obama could make its force more fully felt.
Looking to 2018, the notion that disaffection with Trump will be important to Democratic success in the mid-terms is empirically incorrect. As I wrote in April, taking back control of the House of Representatives will be a function of turning out Democratic voters, not peeling off alienated Republican voters.
We must be clear-eyed about the challenges we will face once we remove Trump from office. But first we have to face the fight in front of us. It cannot be shirked. The imperative of this moment is to remove from power the current occupant of the Oval Office. The progressive movement should put the full force of its energy behind that cause.
Christopher D. Cook
Escaping the Trump Vortex
Among the existential perils we face in the surreal nightmare of Donald Trump’s presidency—his attacks on immigrants, Muslims, democracy, our ecological future—one in particular hasn’t received much analysis or attention: political disorientation and diminished expectations.
Anything that enfeebles Trump’s agenda is to the good, and the process of impeachment should be allowed to run its course. But the left’s fixation on Trump’s removal from office obscures the more mundane wreckage caused daily by this administration’s decimation of the American state.
In the recent blur of horrors, the imperative of “resistance” has necessarily taken center stage. The forward-looking populism that Bernie Sanders catapulted into the national conversation last year—all that talk of the 99 percent, economic justice, combatting corporate power, and universal access to quality healthcare and education—has been whittled down to a dispiriting politics of harm reduction.
We are caught in the Trump vortex.
The president’s unique wretchedness obscures the mundane yet destructive ways his policies align with longstanding Republican politics as well as some neo-liberal corporate Democratic policies—principally, the bipartisan erosion and privatization of domestic policy.
For all the atrocious aspects of Trump, it’s important to remember the underlying policy continuities: the bipartisan unraveling of the social welfare apparatus (i.e., Bill Clinton’s repeal of welfare); the bipartisan economizing of regulation (taken to new lows by Trump), in which vital protections for the environment and for workers are sacrificed to the cost-efficiency gods; the bipartisan national security machine, with its twin faces of war-making and border patrolling.
Democrats and progressives must go beyond resisting the most obviously reprehensible acts of the Trump-Pence administration. We must show the American people a meaningful alternative vision of a better future that goes beyond merely getting rid of Trump. Last November’s election provided a brutally clear warning about the limits of centering Democratic politics around opposition to Trump.
We have to beware of narrowing progressive and liberal politics into a defensive posture in which anything but the worst seems good enough. This will become more treacherous as mid-term election campaigns heat up. Even if Democrats manage to retake one or both legislative chambers, will it be a coalition of “moderate,” neo-liberal anti-Trumps? Where does that get us, or the country?
Even within the confines of “resistance,” the focus has blurred in recent months. Impeachment and Russia now dominate the conversation, often overshadowing outrages such as Trump’s Muslim ban, his assault on environmental and labor protections, and his plans to eviscerate anti-poverty programs.
As we battle Trump—and let the impeachment fight hobble his agenda—we must break out of the Trump vortex and reclaim a spirited politics of racial and economic justice, people-powered democracy, and ecological sustainability. Impeachment won’t accomplish that. It could leave us an equally destructive Pence or Ryan presidency with the capacity to wreak grave and permanent harm.
Four months into the most destructive, chaotic, embarrassing, and enraging presidency in the lifetime of anyone now living, it’s time for progressives to lift themselves out of the Trump vortex and find their footing once again. There is no time to lose.
I would love to see Donald Trump impeached—for anything. Emoluments. Corruption. Conflicting business interests. Profiting at public expense. Obstructing the Russia investigation. Leaking classified information. Waging wars without congressional approval. Groping. Whatever it takes.
It’s a colossal embarrassment to our nation and a danger to the planet that Trump inhabits the White House. Much of the world, Arab despots aside, would jump for joy if he were kicked out.
Some Democrats, such as Representative Al Green of Texas, are openly calling for impeachment, and even a few Republicans are speaking up. Republican congressman Justin Amash admitted that Trump may have committed an impeachable offense by trying to shut down the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russians. So did Carlos Curbelo, a Republican congressman from Florida.
But let’s be real: It’s highly unlikely that a Republican president will be impeached by a Republican-led Congress. There would have to be some pretty damning evidence of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign or the president’s own profiteering from his office to convince Republicans that the president had violated the Constitution and should no longer serve.
George W. Bush did far worse damage by dragging our nation into war on the basis of lies. Sixteen years later, Iraq—and the wider region—is still reeling. Even then, impeachment did not gain steam as a mainstream issue, mostly because the Democratic leadership, including Nancy Pelosi, refused to support it. Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment, but they languished in the Judiciary Committee even after Democrats took control of the House in 2006.
The initiative to impeach Bush failed in Congress, but it received enthusiastic grassroots support and became a tool used by the peace movement to build momentum. Similarly, the call to impeach Trump is an organizing tool. Over 1.1 million people have already signed an impeachment petition. From Los Angeles to Cambridge, Massachusetts, activists have pushed their cities to pass impeachment resolutions saying Trump’s many business interests violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. The resolutions have sparked heated debates and media attention at the local level, giving a powerful megaphone to the resistance movement.
While most members of Congress are not yet ready to jump on the impeachment bandwagon, they are constantly sticking out their fingers to see where the wind is blowing. And the wind is picking up. Trump’s approval ratings are in the doldrums, hovering in the high 30s and low 40s. A poll taken after Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey found for the first time that more Americans are in favor of impeachment than against: 48 percent versus 41 percent. Perhaps even more encouraging was that just 43 percent of respondents believe Trump will serve his full term as president.
We know that Donald Trump is a pathological liar. Sooner or later, his lies will catch up with him. The impeachment movement should be there waiting, hands outstretched, ready to nab him as he falls.