Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019 is the year of impeachment

No, I will not shy away from that word. But much attention needs to be focused on the why and how.

David Leonhardt at the NY Times puts to us the question for 2019 in The People vs. Donald J. Trump. He is demonstrably unfit for office. What are we waiting for? Snippets follow.

First, why is Trump “demonstrably unfit”?

The presidential oath of office contains 35 words and one core promise: to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since virtually the moment Donald J. Trump took that oath two years ago, he has been violating it.

He has repeatedly put his own interests above those of the country. He has used the presidency to promote his businesses. He has accepted financial gifts from foreign countries. He has lied to the American people about his relationship with a hostile foreign government. He has tolerated cabinet officials who use their position to enrich themselves.

To shield himself from accountability for all of this — and for his unscrupulous presidential campaign — he has set out to undermine the American system of checks and balances. He has called for the prosecution of his political enemies and the protection of his allies. He has attempted to obstruct justice. He has tried to shake the public’s confidence in one democratic institution after another, including the press, federal law enforcement and the federal judiciary.

Leonhardt cites four specific transgressions warranting impeachment.

  • Trump has used the presidency for personal enrichment.
  • Trump has violated campaign finance law.
  • Trump has obstructed justice.
  • Trump has subverted democracy.

Second, where does the nation go from here? That is, how do we remove Trump from office?

… Whether the House of Representatives, under Democratic control, impeaches Trump is not the big question. The question is whether he loses the support of a meaningful slice of Republicans.

I know that many of Trump’s critics have given up hoping that he ever will. They assume that Republican senators will go on occasionally criticizing him without confronting him. But it is a mistake to give up. The stakes are too large — and the chances of success are too real.

Consider the following descriptions of Trump: “terribly unfit;” “erratic;” “reckless;” “impetuous;” “unstable;” “a pathological liar;” “dangerous to a democracy;” a concern to “anyone who cares about our nation.” Every one of these descriptions comes from a Republican member of Congress or of Trump’s own administration.

They know. They know he is unfit for office. They do not need to be persuaded of the truth. They need to be persuaded to act on it.

Democrats won’t persuade them by impeaching Trump. Doing so would probably rally the president’s supporters. It would shift the focus from Trump’s behavior toward a group of Democratic leaders whom Republicans are never going to like. A smarter approach is a series of sober-minded hearings to highlight Trump’s misconduct. Democrats should focus on easily understandable issues most likely to bother Trump’s supporters, like corruption.

If this approach works at all — or if Mueller’s findings shift opinion, or if a separate problem arises, like the economy — Trump’s Republican allies will find themselves in a very difficult spot. At his current approval rating of about 40 percent, Republicans were thumped in the midterms. Were his rating to fall further, a significant number of congressional Republicans would be facing long re-election odds in 2020.

It’s not only that Trump is unfit to be president and that Republicans know it. It also may be the case that they will soon have a political self-interest in abandoning him. If they did, the end could come swiftly. The House could then impeach Trump, knowing the Senate might act to convict. Or negotiations could begin over whether Trump deserves to trade resignation for some version of immunity.

Finally, there is the hope — na├»ve though it may seem — that some Republicans will choose to act on principle. There now exists a small club of former Trump administration officials who were widely respected before joining the administration and whom Trump has sullied, to greater or lesser degrees. It includes Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, H.R. McMaster and Jim Mattis. Imagine if one of them gave a television interview and told the truth about Trump. Doing so would be a service to their country at a time of national need. It would be an illustration of duty.

Throughout his career, Trump has worked hard to invent his own reality, and largely succeeded. It has made him very rich and, against all odds, elected him president. But whatever happens in 2019, his false version of reality will not survive history, just as Nixon’s did not. Which side of that history do today’s Republicans want to be on?

Leonhardt has much more to say. Importantly, he identifies what does not constitute grounds for impeachment. And he has more observations on the political considerations such as the similarities and differences between Trump in 2019 and Nixon in 1974. (Nixon was not impeached. He was charged by the House and resigned before the case moved to the Senate.)

Now it is left to the plaintiffs, the people, in 2019 to rid ourselves of what George Will has called “a sad, embarrassing wreck of a man”. The service performed by David Leonhardt in his op-ed is that he provides the details for why and how.

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