A Liberal Warns About The Dangers Of Impeaching Donald Trump
There’s a wonderful kind of thrill surging through liberal America right now, after a week of astounding revelations about the dangerous, out-of-control shenanigans going on inside the Trump White House. The election of Donald Trump was a nightmare for us, revealing a terrifying face of American greed and violence. We didn’t think it was possible for Americans to embrace the kind of crude brutality Trump embodies.
Watching Trump stumble from disaster to disaster, revealing that many of our worst suspicions about him are true, we feel as if the nightmare is shifting into a dream of redemption. Maybe we don’t have to be trapped under Donald Trump for four entire years, we think. Maybe Trump supporters are going to realize what a terrible mistake they made, and apologize, and we’ll all be the better for it. Maybe with a cathartic cleansing we can resume the historical progress towards a genuine liberal democracy.
I want to get out from underneath the stinking hot mess of Donald Trump as much as anyone else. As the news of Trump’s obstruction of justice and disloyal connections to the Russian dictatorship grows more dramatic, I’ve been excited to see members of Congress, and even some Republicans, begin to talk about the possibility of impeachment. After months of gloom, I feel my despair giving way to hope.
As I woke up this morning, however, the voice of despair was strong and clear in my head, and it had a specific warning: Beware the dangers of impeaching Donald Trump.
Right now, with the Trump White House in chaos and the news dominated by a flood of revelations about Donald Trump’s abusive, dangerous, disloyal behavior, it can seem as if impeachment is inevitable. We ask ourselves: How could anyone stand in the way of impeachment now? It seems impossible that Trump could survive this.
Impeachment is not inevitable, however. It is remarkably difficult. For the House of Representatives to create impeachment hearings, a large number of congressional Republicans would have to turn their backs on the President of their own political party. Yet, Republicans in the House of Representatives have been more reluctant to criticize Trump than their colleagues in the Senate.
Even if impeachment takes place, it doesn’t guarantee that Donald Trump will be removed from office. That would require the vote of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate. Such a vote has never taken place in the entire history of the United States of America.
Many parallels between Donald Trump’s current flood of scandal and Richard Nixon’s Watergate mess have been pointed out. What’s typically been overlooked in these comparisons, however, is that Richard Nixon wasn’t actually removed from office through impeachment. He resigned rather than be impeached. Nixon was a paranoid crook, but he also was willing to admit defeat.
Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon. He has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to deny reality. He’s paranoid, like Richard Nixon, but he’s also delusional, building a view of the world by drawing material from an alarming combination of sycophants and conspiracy theorists. When people tell him that he’s done for, that he’s gone too far, Donald Trump sticks with his version of reality with astonishing tenacity, regardless of any contradiction by the facts. This tenacious habit has seen Trump through many mistakes that would have destroyed other politicians. Trump’s trick is that he stays in character, and doesn’t admit when he’s been wrong.
So, Donald Trump isn’t likely to be threatened into resigning from office. He’s likely to fight impeachment every step of the way. As he does so, he will look to Bill Clinton as an encouraging example. Clinton was impeached, but not removed from office. The impeachment didn’t permanently damage his political standing. By the end of his second term, Clinton was stronger than ever.
This is the danger of impeaching Donald Trump: If he is not removed from office, he may be politically strengthened by the process, and at the same time, become more paranoid, more angry, more prone to abuse his power.
In the past, Donald Trump has often indicated his eagerness for abuses of power. He’s praised many brutal autocrats. Just yesterday, Trump declared that, “It was a great honor to welcome the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” to the White House. Erdoğan is the very model of a modern megalomaniacal dictator, stamping out the growing shoots of democracy in Turkey in order to expand his personal power.
Donald Trump has expressed an enthusiasm for political violence on the streets, for torture, for spying on American citizens, for the imprisonment of protesters and journalists, for setting up concentration camps, for mass executions without trial, for launching new wars, and for the use of nuclear weapons. His actions into the White House up to this point have been without precedent in their chaotic, ignorant arrogance and disregard for the law. We’re rightly shocked by what Trump has done as President so far, but we need to keep in mind that, in comparison to what Trump says he really wants to do, he has been restrained so far.
The impeachment of Donald Trump isn’t something that America is likely to be able to try twice. If Congress moves to impeach, but fails to remove Trump from the Oval Office, then Trump will be at once provoked into wrath and free of all restraint, retaining a cowed Republican congressional majority in both houses, and a right wing Supreme Court extremely unlikely to challenge him, and even less likely to succeed in any challenge it attempts.
Living under Trump is already awful, but after a failed impeachment attempt, it could get much, much worse. For millions of Americans, the consequences could be deadly.
I am not arguing that Donald Trump should not be impeached. He should be. My argument is that, because the dangers are so great, impeachment must proceed with extreme caution. If Congress needs to wait until January 2019, after the 2018 congressional elections have returned a Democratic majority to at least one house of Congress, then we need to knuckle down and endure Trump as President for 20 more months. With only one shot at taking down Trump, Congress must not miss.
To help us remain patient as an effective impeachment process is constructed, we should remember what the best case scenario for impeachment would be: Mike Pence, a right wing extremist who favors all the worst policies advocated by Donald Trump, becomes President of the United States.
Despite the euphoria we may feel at the idea of an impeachment of Donald Trump, the reality is that it’s going to take many years of heavy work to clean up the mess that he’s made just in the few short months he has been President so far. There is no path into America’s political future that will be easy to tread.