“Impeach Trump Now” is the title of an Atlantic article by Yoni Appelbaum being published in the March edition, which focuses on the Trump presidency at its midway point. Its central premise, as the title suggests, is that impeachment proceedings should begin now because such proceedings would have benefits even if Trump is not ultimately removed by the Senate.
Opponents of impeachment point out that, despite the greater severity of the prospective charges against Trump, there is little reason to believe the Senate is more likely to remove him than it was to remove Clinton. Indeed, the Senate’s Republican majority has shown little will to break with the president—though that may change. The process of impeachment itself is likely to shift public opinion, both by highlighting what’s already known and by bringing new evidence to light.
Appelbaum argues that impeachment proceedings would have five distinct benefits:
- Trump loses control of the public conversation as attention turns to the proceedings;
- the undemocratic elements of Trump’s agenda will be paralyzed while he deals with the Congressional investigation: “There may be no more effective way to run out the clock on an administration than to tie it up with impeachment hearings.”
- impeachment proceedings can be used as a tool for discovery, discernment, and (in my own view) summary and distillation of the transgressions;
- it defuses the potential for actual political violence by providing a legitimate option for removing a divisive leader: “The public understood that once the impeachment process began, the real action would take place in Congress, and not in the streets.”; and
- it would damage Trump’s political prospects even if unsuccessful.
In fact, it’s the very efficacy of these past efforts that should give Congress pause; it’s a process that should be triggered only when a president’s betrayal of his basic duties requires it. But Trump’s conduct clearly meets that threshold. The only question is whether Congress will act.
The remainder of the article is a history lesson about prior impeachment proceedings — those of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton — and how those proceedings impacted their respective presidencies even though none of them were ultimately removed. Appelbaum argues that Trump’s presidency will be similarly constrained, and that this constraint alone should justify the exercise.
I would add one other benefit to this list: demonstrating the health of our institutions. We have long influenced the world through our military power and moral and institutional superiority. As our numbers and power are inevitably challenged globally, it is vital that we continue to command respect for our democratic principles, transparency, and excellent decision-making. Much of Trump’s impact can be reversed, but the most serious long-term impact will be the undermining of trust and respect for our public institutions. Impeachment would demonstrate that we remain a healthy democracy with the continuing capability to root out corruption, prejudice, and incompetence.
Winston Churchill may or may not have said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.” Hope springs eternal.