I would like to think that in a sane and just world, having a president who hired people who were actively committing tax fraud before, during, and after their tenure with your campaign and hired a lawyer who would willingly pay hush money to women to buy their silence about committing adultery would raise serious questions about their fitness for office. And that’s not even taking into account the ongoing investigation as to whether or not he or his advisors worked with a hostile foreign autocrat and his government to throw the presidential election.
But that’s in a sane and just world, and we’re not there. We haven’t been for quite a while.
After the events of Tuesday — and adding in all the other considerations and previous antics — naturally the call is coming from some quarters along the lines of “What more does Congress need to start impeachment proceedings?” The answer is pretty simple: a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress and a smoking gun. Right now we don’t have either.
Impeachment is hard to pull off. The framers made it tough for a reason: they didn’t want it to be used for superfluous or political reasons. In the three times Congress has tried it on a president, it has never been successful in removing him from office through the whole process. Andrew Johnson survived the trial, Nixon resigned before the House could even vote on all the articles, and Bill Clinton beat the rap in the Senate. Not only did he beat it, the process backfired spectacularly on his accusers — Newt Gingrich was forced out as House Speaker — and Mr. Clinton ended up more popular with the electorate than before the whole thing started. So despite the mountains of lies, pettiness, and outrageous tweets spewed by Trump, until there’s rock solid evidence, provable in a court of law, that he committed the Constitution’s requirements for impeachment, we’re going to have to bear with it. (And even if he were to, as he once boasted, shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight, there will be the 27% — and Fox News — that say the person who got shot had it coming.)
New York Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens follows my trail but ends up making the case for impeachment now, basically saying Trump’s actions reach the level of removal, holding up the Clinton case as the bloody shirt to the Republicans.
If breaking the law (by lying under oath) to conceal an affair was impeachable, why is breaking the law (by violating campaign-finance laws) to conceal an affair not impeachable?
If “cheating the electoral system” (by means of a burglary) was impeachable, why is cheating the electoral system (by means of illicit hush money) not impeachable?
If cheating “our institutions” (by means of an “assault” in “every way” on the legal system) is impeachable, why is cheating those institutions (by means of nonstop presidential mendacity and relentless attacks on the Justice Department and the F.B.I.) not impeachable?
Pragmatists will rejoin that there’s no sense in advocating impeachment when the G.O.P. controls Congress. I’m sorry that so many congressional Republicans have lost their sense of moral principle and institutional self-respect, but that’s a reason to seek Democratic victories in the fall. The Constitution matters more than a tax cut. What the Constitution demands is the impeachment and removal from office of this lawless president.
I’m sure he’s sincere in his outrage, but shaming the Republicans into doing the right thing is a fool’s errand. When it comes to choosing moral principles and self-respect over winning an election, we all know where that’s headed.
So we need to elect a majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate so that they will be able to methodically and with due diligence look into this president and his actions. Going off on a banshee screed about locking him up will only harden the hearts of his defenders and provide them with soundbites for their witch-hunt memes. And we need to hear all of the evidence — solid and irrefutable — of the alleged crimes. Whether or not that comes from the Mueller investigation is yet to be known; it may or may not. But until that happens, we’re going to have to wait for both the election in November and the report from the investigation.
Trump and the Republicans have so mangled our senses that it seems impossible to think that we can wait much longer without causing permanent damage to both our lives and the future of this form of government. But we survived a civil war, a depression, and numerous acts of venality and criminal acts by people in high places of power and yet survived. If we could get through those, we can get through this now. And if we’re going to take action to get him out of office, it has to be done right. Miss or mess it up and we’ll be worse off.