I don’t like Donald Trump. Never have. He doesn’t have the qualities that I appreciate in a person, let alone a world leader. In most cases, he’s the opposite. I like kindness—Donald Trump is mean. I like an intellectual—Donald Trump is shallow. I like people who take the high road—Donald Trump always takes the low road. I like people with a certain degree of humility—Donald Trump is a braggadocious buffoon who never shuts up about how great he is.
None of these things are impeachable offenses. Donald Trump, after all, was already all of these things long before the 2016 presidential election, and people voted for him anyway. That said, the argument that the Trump impeachment is an effort to undo the “will of the people” doesn’t really hold water.
Removing a popularly elected president is exactly what impeachment was designed to do. It’s a safeguard that the framers wrote into the Constitution not just as a check on the executive, but as a check on the people themselves, whom many of the framers had very little faith in when it came to intelligent decision-making. Plus, if Donald Trump were to be removed via this constitutional process, he wouldn’t be replaced by a collective executive made up of Nancy Pelosi and the Squad. He’d be replaced by the ultra-conservative Mike Pence, who would carry out the rest of the four-year term secured by the 2016 electoral victory.
Still, if a popularly elected president is to be removed from office, it’s got to be for the right reasons. It’s got to be because the president’s actions fit the description laid out in the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
I’ve got some major objections to the ways that House Democrats have went about making that case. That begins with their lack of credibility. The word “impeachment” has been in the mouths of House Democrats since the day Trump took office, and now that we finally find ourselves in a situation where Trump’s actions might be objectively impeachable, the word has lost all of its power. It’s the classic parable of the boy who cried wolf—when the wolf finally showed up, nobody believed it.
The other major issue that I have with the Democratic approach is my belief that they are over-playing their hand. That’s not to say that they don’t have a hand to play. Overall, I found the impeachment hearings to be highly effective in illustrating the problematic nature of the president’s actions, and utilizing a group of witnesses who were credible, professional, and non-partisan.
But while I heard enough in the testimony to be convinced that Trump did indeed offer a “quid pro quo”, and that he did indeed suspend military aid to Ukraine in order to force an investigation into a political opponent, manipulating taxpayer money and placing American foreign policy initiatives in jeopardy in order to try to better his own reelection possibilities, I would concede one major point—there is no “smoking gun”.
In her opening statement of the impeachment debates, Nancy Pelosi said that the House was there to discuss “the established fact that the president violated the Constitution.” This simply isn’t true. The evidence and testimony certainly point in that direction, but there still is nothing to undeniably prove it. Even key witness Gordon Sondland admitted that his assertion of a quid pro quo was based on a “presumption”, and with something as serious as impeachment, it seems iffy to proceed on a presumption, even if it’s a pretty strong one.
What is more, while this charge would constitute a serious abuse of presidential power, I can’t help but feel that House Dems are still overstating its gravity. In his floor statement on the day of the impeachment vote, Congressman Adam Schiff reiterated the testimony of Professor Gerhart a few weeks prior, who stated that if Donald Trump’s actions were not impeachable, “then nothing is impeachable.” Schiff went on to ominously warn that, “The president and his men plot on. The danger persists. The risk is real. Our democracy is at peril.”
I agree that Donald Trump’s actions on Ukraine do represent something that, in their essence, seek to undermine the foundations of American democracy. I also agree that Donald Trump is a unique brand of dangerous, and that his words and actions are all too-often reminiscent of those leaders who have undermined democratic societies throughout history. Still, as I was listening to Schiff’s floor speech, as well as the statements of many of his Democratic colleagues, I can’t help but admit that my first reaction to much of what they had to say was, “Really?” Is Trump’s failed attempt at a quid pro quo really the worst crime imaginable when thinking about what constitutes an impeachable offense? Are Trump and his men really plotting to destroy American democracy and transform the United States into a fascist dystopia? Or does this type of language do more to reinforce the Trumpian narrative that Democrats’ hate for him is so powerful that it prevents them from rational thinking?
I don’t consider myself a member of either of the two major parties, but I absolutely view the Democrats as the lesser of two evils, and I don’t think it’s close. However, in order to convince the public that Trump is guilty of abusing his presidential power, Democrats cannot overstate their case. Democrats have to be the party of rationality and nuance, because if they’re not, they make themselves indistinguishable from the disingenuous and unintelligible demagoguery that is constantly taking place on the right.
Congressional Republicans have been unsurprisingly awful throughout the entirety of the impeachment proceedings. Impeachable or not impeachable, Trump did something wrong, and the Republicans know it. If you want to carry out a fun thought experiment, imagine if, with all the other details constant, the person on the other end of the phone call with the Ukrainian president had been Hilary Clinton. Republicans would have their hair on fire, and would have lost their voices from incessant participation in “LOCK HER UP!” chants. But of course, since it’s Trump, Republicans have once again sold out the principles they supposedly stand for in order to defend this president.
The idea that Trump is actually concerned about corruption in Ukraine is laughable. It is abundantly obvious that the only reason Trump has any interest in Ukrainian corruption is the hope that he can tie it to his most likely opponent in the upcoming election, and have the 2020 equivalent of “Hilary’s emails” should Biden secure the nomination. It’s also pretty clear that Trump was withholding military aid in an effort to force that investigation, and just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be condemned for trying.
But for Republicans, that admission would feel like too much of a concession, so they continue with their transparent strategy to try to refocus the spotlight on overzealous Dems, and when pushed, double-down on their dishonest assertion that the president “did nothing wrong.” If they really believed that, they’d be onboard with Democrats in calling on Trump to let top White House officials testify. The fact that they’re not shows that they know what Trump knows—if those officials testify and tell the truth, Democrats will have the definitive proof they need to show that Trump did what they think he did.
It’s also worth stating that the evaluation of the president’s actions should not be dependent on whatever the Biden’s may or may not be guilty of in Ukraine. In all likelihood, the appointment of Hunter Biden to a lucrative position on the board of a Ukrainian company, and the demands of then Vice President Joe Biden to fire a prosecutor who was investigating that company, is just a case of terrible optics. There is no evidence to suggest anything different. But if there were to be an investigation, and that investigation were to reveal the Biden’s were up to some kind of sketchy business, would that really change the nature of the charges against Trump? At the end of the day, Trump would still be using the power of the executive to advance his own personal interests. The fact that there would be a “there there” in the case of the Biden’s would not make that any less true.
But in spite of my beliefs that Trump did abuse his power, and that that abuse of power perhaps rises to the level of an impeachable offense, there is still one major element that is lacking in order for me to feel comfortable with impeachment—the support of the American people.
Technically, that support is already there. A recent poll showed that 52% of respondents supported the articles of impeachment, with 43% opposing. But something as big as impeachment, and ultimately removal from office, should not result from a slim majority. As the articles of impeachment move to the Senate, if Democrats are to have any shot at a conviction, they need to convince more Americans of the dangers of the Trump presidency.
In one sense, this is a practical necessity. In order to obtain the 2/3 majority for a conviction, Republican senators are going to need to feel more heat from their constituents, but if the opinions of voters on impeachment continue to depend on partisan allegiances, then that is not going to happen. In another sense, it just feels like a broad consensus should be the expectation if a president is going to be removed from office.
It is highly unlikely that any dramatic shift is coming, either in the Senate or in the electorate, that would result in the first successful conviction on impeachment charges in the history of the country. The Senate trial will likely go as we expect it to go—most-to-all Democrats will vote to convict, most-to-all Republicans will vote to acquit, and Donald Trump will go on to serve out the remainder of his first term in office. Which is why I have been saying from the beginning that the most important takeaway from these proceedings will not be the inevitable results in the House and Senate, but the way those results play in the minds of voters heading into the 2020 election.
And this has to be the goal moving forward. Americans don’t need to be convinced that Trump should have or should not have been impeached by the House. Americans don’t need to be convinced that Trump should be or should not be removed from office by the Senate. Americans just need to be convinced that what Trump did was wrong. They need to be convinced that these actions, whether impeachable or not, are just the latest in a series of actions that are selfish, immoral, and unpresidential. This may not result in a Senate conviction, but if done effectively, it would result in the removal of Donald Trump by a different method—democratic election—which continues to be the most practical, legitimate, and satisfying means to remove this president from an office that he has done so much to disgrace.