The Real Costs of Impeachment

I don’t have much to say about this but I want to highlight a must-read article from The Washington Post on the subject of impeaching President Trump. I’ll let the article itself do the talking about why you should read it:

How would removing Trump from office affect U.S. democracy? Would it be an exemplary act of accountability — or a thinly veiled coup against an elected leader? Would it prevent major damage to the republic — or push the country into political instability?

Political science research and other nations’ experiences suggest that, without a careful process backed by a broad national consensus, removing the president would only worsen the country’s polarization.

This kind of thing reminds me of the great line Jeff Goldblum has in the American classic Jurassic Park about how the scientists spent so much time discussing if they could they didn’t ask if they should (I’m sure there’s a more academic version of that concept, but, Jeff Goldblum).

I’m not taking a position on this either way, but it’s important – vitally important – that we actual look at the long term ramifications. It may very well be true that Donald Trump is so unfit to be President, and that his actions thus far have been so criminal and so harmful to the United States, that he needs to be removed by Congress. However, it’s also true that a lot of the impetus for this is from people who are essentially children that didn’t get their way and are kicking and screaming until they do. There’s been people calling for his impeachment since before the inauguration. I highly doubt most of these people were so plugged in to the Russia investigation that they were looking out for the best interests of the Republic.

What so many people seem to forget is that we live in a system of laws and for our government to function we need those to be respected. We need institutions to matter. One of the key differences between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire is that under the former there was respect for institutions, whereas under the latter it was purely about expediency – political and personal.

Our country has certainly faced situations where the legitimacy of the Presidency was called into question. In the decade or so following the Civil War we had an (arguably illegitimate) impeachment of an un-elected President, followed by the sham that was the election of 1876 and the elevation of “His Fraudulency” Rutherford B. Hayes (I also could have used another of his nicknames, Rutherfraud B. Hayes). But we survived. Even after the horror show of the mid-1970s, with Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and having a President that no one ever voted for in Gerald Ford, we survived.

However, over the last twenty years our respect for institutions – particularly the Presidency – has worsened. Obviously Congress is about as popular as Ebola (and less popular than Communism). The Supreme Court has never fully recovered from the sham that was Bush v. Gore. But our treatment of the President has been terrible.

In 1996 Bill Clinton trounced Bob Dole and was easily re-elected. However, we then suffered through one of the worst moments in U.S. history: the impeachment of the President over a minor crime for purely partisan reasons. After this shock to the system we went through the 2000 election, with it’s aforementioned judicial resolution that left a great deal to be desired. This was not made better with the 2004 re-election which, whether it was clean or not, certainly left a sour taste in people’s mouth.

However, the tonic of 2008 should have cured this. Barack Obama, running a campaign explicitly based on unifying the country, wins a landslide victory. His honorable opponent graciously concedes, and we can all move forward after a decade of partisan rancor. Then came the Birthers, and the bogus cries of illegitimacy, and the “NOT MY PRESIDENT!!!” fools. These people – some of whom are in Congress now and one of whom is now our President – will go down as among the worst in our country’s history. These addled minded children, unable to cope with losing, spent eight years attacking the foundations of the Republic. They would gladly watch America burn if they could sit atop the ashes. And in the process they essentially destroyed one of the two political parties we have.

And the response of many on the other side of the aisle is to now do the exact same thing! This inability to grasp the basics of democratic government, to be so concerned with getting their way that they would destroy the tenets that allow us to have a democratic government, is the worst virus in our body politic.

Again, there may very well be legitimate grounds to impeach the President. If the first 100+ days are any indication, he’s on pace to be our worse President ever. The issues with Comey, and most concerning of all the Russia ties, are unbelievably serious. It is not overstatement to say that we may be headed for one of the most dangerous times in the country’s history.

However, such a major shock to the system as the first ever successful Presidential impeachment and removal needs to rest on strong grounds. It can’t be based on entitlement and not getting your way. Unfortunately, this is the problem our hyper-partisan environment has created. We’re discussing the most serious of Constitutional options we have, and there’s very few adults in the room to have that discussion. Let’s try to get some more adults in the room.


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