Impeachment is not a constitutional crisis.
Impeachment is the cure for a constitutional crisis.
Like any antidote, it must be employed judiciously. When the crisis arises, however, patriots cannot be cautious about utilizing the strong medicine that was conjured in the summer of 1787 by the authors of a Constitution that was written with an eye toward averting the elected despotism of a president who might conspire to make himself “a king for four years.”
The wisest of the delegates who gathered in Philadelphia, just four years after their rebellion had seen off the rule of King George III, were well aware that their imprecise efforts might forge not just a new nation but a new approach to governing. They well recognized the vulnerabilities of a project that experimented, however tentatively, with the revolutionary prospect of democracy. They worried, as Lincoln would decades later, about “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” Above all, they recognized that their project of replacing the rule of man with the rule of law would be threatened by what George Mason described as the “easy step to hereditary Monarchy.” To avert it, Mason warned, “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued.”
It would, Mason suggested, provide an eternal answer to questions that plagued the convention as it pondered the presidency: “Shall any man be above justice? Above all, shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice?”
Mason placed his faith in a rigorous system of checks and balances that was enforced, ultimately and definitively, by the power of the House of Representatives to impeach a president whose continued tenure threatened the republic, and of the United States Senate to remove the offending officeholder.
Impeachment was never meant to be about crimes and punishments. It was intended at the founding of the American experiment, and should be so understood today, as a remedy for the monarchical tendencies of men who answer Mason’s questions differently than did the Virginian and his compatriots.
Donald Trump is such a man.
In the spring of 2018, as the 45th president of the United States and his legal minions scrambled to limit the scope of questioning of the commander in chief by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump revealed himself. He insisted that the deputizing of a veteran lawman as an investigator of monumental concerns regarding manipulation of the electoral and governing processes by foreign powers was “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!” Trump claimed that he cooperated with the inquiry not out of respect for the laws of the land but because he chose to do so as one who claimed to “have done nothing wrong.” At the same time, Trump asserted that he retained an “absolute right” to pardon himself should the heat of official scrutiny grow too intense.