It is time for the Democrats in the House to initiate the impeachment process. The Democratic leadership fears that impeachment, while justified, is a losing proposition politically because as long as the Republicans control the Senate, they will stop the process, which will allow Trump to claim vindication and help him win re-election. This is an accurate assessment of the current political climate. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is a very savvy politician; even those who disagree with her political leanings admire her tactical skill. Given that the Democrats won control of the House because they flipped seats in a bunch of districts that lean Republican, Pelosi is trying to protect those new members by allowing them to avoid taking a stand on a controversial topic (most polls show a majority against impeachment).
There are three reasons for starting the impeachment process now. The primary reason is to uphold the rule of law. Our nation was built on the concept of everyone being equal before the law. Not only is equality before the law required to remain true to the founding ideas of America, the rule of law is one of the foundations for our success as a nation. Throwing out the rule of law creates a transactional society, which leads to bribes and corruption, which destroy efficiency and entrepreneurship. Instead of order and stability, everything becomes a negotiation, with the outcome dependent on the relative power of the two parties who are negotiating. President Trump has, on numerous occasions, with both word and deed, demonstrated contempt for the rule of law. Recently, Trump claimed that Article II gives him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” Pretty close to Richard Nixon’s “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.”
Fearful Democrats argue that impeachment creates too great a risk. But failing to impeach also has risks. Failing to impeach Trump, when it is obvious to any knowledgeable observer that impeachable offenses have occurred, makes it look like the Democrats are weak, driven by political calculation. Not only does failure to impeach undercut the activists the party needs to run an energetic campaign, it also emboldens Republicans who know that as long as they can hold the Senate, Trump will never be held accountable. Critics of the Democrats can also reasonably argue that since the Democrats are able to impeach the president in the arm of government they control (the House), if they choose not to impeach, they must have been bluffing about having a strong case for impeachment.
The Republicans accuse the Democrats of trying to use impeachment to get rid of Trump because they were unable to beat him at the ballot box. But impeaching Trump is not derailing a popular presidency on a technicality (for example, when Ken Starr’s most serious charge against Clinton was that under oath, he denied having “sex” with Monica Lewinsky because he parsed the word to exclude oral sex; this was a weak crime to try to remove a president from office). The Mueller Report documented up to 10 instances of obstruction of justice, and a political campaign that sought help from one of our most dangerous rivals. There are also plenty of things not covered by the Mueller Report that should also be brought into impeachment proceedings; violating campaign finance laws when he directed Michael Cohen to pay off Stormy Daniels as well as the National Enquirer purchasing the story of another affair (Karen McDougal) for the purpose of helping Trump get elected; violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution (which prohibits the president from accepting anything of value from foreigners); conflicts of interest (Trump changing the Republican platform to benefit Russia while seeking to build a tower in Moscow, e.g.). And this does not even consider the crimes Trump committed as a businessman: using his foundation to enrich himself and his family, illegally avoiding taxes on the money he inherited from his father, inflating his net worth to get loans (mortgage fraud), etc.
Finally, the most important reason to impeach Trump is he is truly dangerous. Recently, he spoke casually about bombing Afghanistan into oblivion, while also inflaming the tensions between two nuclear rivals (India and Pakistan). He embraces murderous dictators (Putin, Kim Jong-un, Duterete, Erdogan) while undermining our allies. He inflames racial tensions in our own country, claiming there are “good people” among the Nazis at Charlottesville, attacking Democrats, especially those of color (“the squad” and Elijah Cummings) as traitorous. He makes everyday problems into crises (the challenge of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America) for political gains. He breaks agreements that took years to develop, and mitigate some of the most serious challenges we face (the Paris Accord addressing climate change; the TPP trying to limit the rise of China; the Iran nuclear deal to keep Iran from going nuclear, and the INF treaty limiting Russia’s development of advanced missiles). The imperative of impeachment is not to punish Trump for what he’s done (though it is important to show that even the president must obey the law), but to prevent him from causing greater harm.
Right now, there is not sufficient support for impeachment for it to succeed. But there was not support for Nixon’s impeachment prior to the movement to impeach him either. There is clearly a core group of Trump supporters who would continue to support him even if (as he claimed was true) he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. But I think there are enough Republicans who are sufficiently appalled by his behavior (even if they support many of his policies) that if they are faced with choosing to approve of his behavior or rejecting it, they will reject it. Impeachment will force that choice. I have less faith in the Senate, where Mitch McConnell has shown time and again that he will support Trump even as he violates supposedly foundational Republican principles. But even if the Senate fails to convict, the American people will have a chance to weigh the evidence and decide in 2020. If the Democrats make a convincing case that Trump should not be president, regardless of what the Senate does, the American people will be able to make an informed choice.
Kent James is an East Washington resident and has degrees in history and policy management from Carnegie Mellon University.