On Impeachment


2/18/17


Each day, many of us watch slack-jawed as we witness further evidence of President Trump’s potential corruption, ties to Russia, mental instability, administrative chaos, lack of knowledge of political basics, divisiveness, and extremism. Many of us consider at least some of these things to be cause for impeachment, and we wonder why the wheels are not being put in motion for a removal from office. There are a number of explanations.

First, and most obviously, Congress needs to initiate and follow through on any impeachment proceedings, and both houses are currently controlled by Republicans. Those Republican Congresspeople are, by and large, getting exactly what they want right now – and more: Trump is doing all of the most extreme and unpopular things that they have wanted to do for years, and is taking all of the public heat for it. All that the Congressional Republicans have to do is keep their mouths shut, look the other way and whistle a happy tune. What could be better?

Second, many Congressional Republicans are the kind of politicians that Trump voters couldn’t stand: politically cowardly, insincere, ready to change positions whenever they believe that doing so is politically expedient. They see a lot of unrest in the streets and at their town halls right now. But they also know that Trump voters were silent before they elected Trump, and are quite possibly being silent right now. Politically, that is a very smart observation, and is an important thing for people on the left to be aware of as well: despite the impression that the left’s echo chamber might create for itself, the lack of vocal support for Trump right now does not mean that that support may not still be widespread. Congressional Republicans do not want to outrage this “silent majority” (realistically a minority), because Trump’s people are much more likely to vote Republican in future elections than are the masses who are swarming out into the streets.

Third, like many other Americans, Congressional Republicans watched the Presidential debates, where Trump effectively used aggressive, simplistic, elementary-schoolyard-style branding to inescapably trample each of his opponents – Republican and Democrat. They know that opposing him could be politically disastrous. They also know that the time will eventually come when they have no choice but to do so.

Right now is the honeymoon period for Congressional Republicans. Trump has behaved more like a king than a President. As the former top decision-maker for his own companies, that is how he is used to operating all his life. His main Presidential actions have been to sign his own executive orders. There has not yet been much of the usual back-and-forth that takes place between a President and the Legislature. That kind of interaction will eventually come, but for now, Congress is happy to have the President do what he wants and let him experience all of the flack for it.

Fourth, Congressional Republicans have made the political calculation that the impeachable things that Trump can be proven in a court of law to have done thus far do not yet rise to the level of public outrage that would prompt them to impeach. Realistically, all that is provable is that Trump has conflicts between his Presidential duties and his financial interests – bad, but not bad enough. Arguments about his mental instability could result in impeachment under the 25th Amendment, but such mental instability is difficult to prove in court. His divisiveness and extremism are part of what appealed to his most enthusiastic base, and that base is generally pleased with what they have seen from him so far. His lack of knowledge of politics is something that could be fully expected from a political “outsider,” so there is little surprising there beyond perhaps his seeming willful determination to flaunt that lack of knowledge internationally, offending America’s traditional allies and adversaries alike. Similarly, his Administration’s inner chaos and incompetence could be expected from a Washington novice, and he has dismissed reports of disorganization as “fake news” from the “lying press” – a characterization that his supporters likely believe.

That leaves us with his ties to Russia. Despite the seething anger of Congressional Democrats after a confidential briefing several weeks ago from FBI Director James Comey, I am of the belief that Comey’s FBI and other intelligence agencies are in the process of diligently investigating these Russian connections, and that any silence from the FBI and others is out of a desire not to jeopardize those investigations by tipping off the Administration about what leads they are pursuing. I also believe that the law enforcement and intelligence communities are investigating Trump’s business interests as they relate to corruption of his position as an elected public official.

Until one of these two investigations is complete, we are unlikely to see any serious moves toward impeachment. However, I do believe that at that point, there will be ample and irrefutable evidence, it will be made public, and Congress will have no choice but to take action.

In practical terms, such action will be far from undesirable for Congress: they will have in Mike Pence a mentally stable, cooperative President with whom they are ideologically in perfect step; all of the really ugly, controversial measures will already have been put in place by Trump; and people on the left will be jumping for joy at their “victory” and breathing a sigh of relief that there is no longer a lunatic in the White House with one finger on the nuclear button and one finger on his Twitter account.

And that’s the way that I believe the American Constitutional system will ultimately force/empower a dysfunctional political system to remove a profoundly unfit leader from office in the year 2017. If we can get there without a nuclear war, major financial collapse, or the irreversible implementation of an authoritarian state along the way, I’ll be happy. Yeah, I’m setting the bar pretty low.

– rob rünt


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