There is a vocal and growing contingent of the liberal left that is demanding that Donald Trump needs to be impeached now. Today. That anything less would be un-American, and perhaps even bordering on High Crimes and Misdemeanors. There are several justifications for this stance, and I felt I should take a brief moment to address them.
- He’s Guilty.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room (pardon the pun). Regardless of the crime de jure Trump is being accused of, there never seems to be any doubt that he’s guilty as sin and twice as ugly. However, I would like to point out that while impeachment proceedings are not a traditional trial, we do still have a tradition of “innocent until proven guilty” in America, and insisting that someone is guilty of a crime before you have even begun the trial or even gotten an indictment yet (that would be the actual articles of impeachment) looks kind of bad. One might even call it political opportunism or partisanship rather than actually trying to get at the truth. Or hey, we can just skip all that investigation nonsense and impeach the motherfucker.
- Get Votes On the Record.
It’s pretty well accepted at this point that the Senate won’t convict Trump. Not right now, possibly not ever. For those who say “definitely not ever,” I point you toward Richard Nixon. When Watergate was first coming to light, it didn’t look like there was any way the Senate would convict if impeachment went forward for him either. Things change. But that takes time and effort (I’ll get to that). People who want to move forward now are more interested in getting votes on the record, to show who stands for America and who stands for Trump, because they honestly believe you can’t be for both. Regardless of how you might personally feel about Trump, to assume that nobody can in good faith still support him AND support America is a pretty big leap. It’s the sort of leap that the Republican Party took in 1998 with Bill Clinton, and they paid a price for it in the next election. And there are still quite a few Democrats from moderate districts who will likely end up paying that price.
- It’s the Right Thing to Do.
Is it? There are plenty of people who say this isn’t a political decision, it’s a moral one. That’s fine. If you have solid, not indisputable but solid, proof of “Bribery, Treason*, or High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” then by all means it’s the right thing to do. But just because you believe Trump did something doesn’t mean you have proof he did it. There are a lot of conservatives out there who believe that life starts at conception that are making all kinds of laws based on that belief; last I checked those laws were getting challenged in court in large part because they can’t prove that assertion. More to the point impeachment is a legal mechanism, and the law doesn’t care about what you know. All it cares about is what you can prove. Yes, I know there is an argument that it is a political mechanism, but I reject that argument. Impeachment calls for an indictment and a trial; it may be outside of the standard court system, but so is the Uniform Military Code of Justice, and you don’t hear a lot of folks suggesting that a court martial is a “political process”. And no, the Mueller Report doesn’t say that Trump obstructed justice. Mueller said as much himself. There might be enough there to support the charge, but you need to connect the dots yourself and you need to do the heavy lifting on your own.
*Despite what Donald Trump seems to believe, treason against the United States is a very specific crime that “shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.” So yeah. Good luck proving that one seeing as we haven’t had an active war declared in a long time… although maybe you could get two people to testify that Donald Trump gave aid to Poverty. That War’s been going on for decades.
- Going Through the Courts Is the Wrong Strategy
This is the one that confuses me the most. It is often tied to an argument about “not being respected as a coequal branch of government,” but such arguments often come across as “you didn’t do what we want and you stole the election and you stole Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat so we’re gonna get you!” Seriously, there’s supposed to be a balance of powers, and to be honest for the last several decades Congress has given away the farm to the Executive branch. That’s nothing new; Trump just happens to be taking particularly ruthless advantage of it, with the assistance of a particularly obnoxious Mitch McConnell. But the truth is this is not out of character for either Republicans or Democrats; it is a matter of style and degree, not the actual substance. The tit-for-tat historical back and forth justifications have been pointed out multiple times, and they are completely irrelevant. What matters is that Congress does have tools at their disposal to rein in the President if they chose to use them. Both the House and the Senate have such powers, and they can be effective.
What’s more important is that going for impeachment and losing is not going to suddenly make Congress more “respected as a coequal branch of government,” either by Trump or the American public. You know what will? Winning. Which is exactly what is happening in the courts. What’s even better is that this is no longer a partisan fight of Democrats vs. Republicans, or Congress vs. the White House. Now it becomes two branches of the government vs. one. Almost as if two coequal branches, neither of which is more powerful than the other, had to go to a neutral arbitrator to settle a dispute rather than letting things get nasty and out of control.
Look, I get it. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet.” And yet Donald Trump keeps getting away with making outrage claims on Twitter and making even more outrageous policy. Surely the old ways are gone, the norms have all been destroyed, working within the system is pointless and we have to act NOW to save our democracy while there is still something to save! Or perhaps given time and the efforts of reasonable and well-intentioned people, our system will prove more resilient than the fools who are trying to upend it.
To this point I have (with great restraint) avoided voicing any sort of opinion on the Kavanaugh controversy, and I will continue to do so, except to say that I believe very strongly that the best course of action is to investigate the allegations seriously so as to avoid any uncertainty in the event that Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed.
Democrats also need to accept the reality before them, which is that even if Kavanaugh is not confirmed (whether he withdraws or is down-voted), the very real likelihood is that there will be another conservative justice on the court. The only way this wouldn’t happen is the near-impossible confluence of events whereby the current nomination is dragged out past the current election cycle, Democrats take over the Senate, they manage to keep any and all vacancies open for two full years, and then keep control of the Senate and win the White House. Impossible? Stranger things may have happened, but not by much.
What I am interested in however is the discussion that is not happening. Once again we are being presented, by both sides, with the rankest sort of hypocrisy, and nobody is being called out on it because it is politically unfeasible to do so. Without getting into the specifics of “did he or didn’t he”, “is she telling the truth or is she lying”, my concern is with the way both sides have already taken a stance on whether a person’s actions as a teenager should determine their fitness for higher office (much) later in life. This is particularly galling as in their standard approach to criminal justice the left and the right tend to have opposite stances to the approach they are taking in this case.
Liberals tend to be very much in favor of rehabilitation over incarceration, with the eventual goal being reintegration into society. Judging someone in their fifties by a crime they committed in their teens, let alone something they were merely accused of committing, is seen as a horrendous offense…usually.
Lest anyone think I am letting Conservatives off the hook, think again. Conservatives cast themselves as “law and order”, with incarceration being the law and “paying your debt to society” being the order. Like a loan shark that debt never seems to quite get paid in full for most people once you get under the thumb of Johnny Law… unless you happen to be of the privileged class. “Pearl clutching” and “NIMBY” are phrases that seem to have been tailor-made to go hand-in-hand for these folks.
Consider then that this year and in the years to follow we have hundreds if not thousands of individuals on both sides of the political divide who could be considered nominees for political office. With that in mind, I have a few questions I would like to pose to them:
- If someone were accused of a misdemeanor as a minor, should they be able to vote?
- Should they be able to hold any public office?
- What if it was a nonviolent felony?
- What if it was a violent felony?
- What if they were convicted?
- Same questions as above, only the crimes occurred when they were an adult.
- If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, is there any specific limit of time they need to wait? Are there any actions they need to take beyond serving their sentence if any (e.g. restitution) before they would be eligible?
Feel free to make your answers as short or as long as you like, but please none of the usual dodging or bloviating. Everyone seems both eager and capable enough to take a clear stand on whether or not they believe and support either Judge Kavanaugh or his accusers. Just this once it would be nice to get that kind of clarity on something else.