Following the public release of the Mueller Report, I spent some time writing the second post, in what I thought would be a series, on that topic. However, everything I was writing was written about elsewhere. It’s easy enough to find all the information if you look. The real question is what to do about it. Now that we know what President Trump and others did, what next? In the case of Trump himself, should the US Congress move to impeach him?
The assumption of whether someone is in the “Yes” or “No” camp is largely down to their politics. If you’re a Republican, Libertarian, or Independent your answer is likely to be: “No”. (Independents, though, are less likely to be “No” than Republicans or Libertarians.) Green Party members are likely to say: “Yes”. Democrats are fairly evenly split.
As an outside observer, I’m in the “No” camp, and I’ll explain why. However, there is room for me to move to the “Yes” camp, and I’ll give the criteria that would lead me to change my mind, too.
Before I go any further, I should also state that any reasonable, decent person, on reading the Mueller Report, should be for impeachment. In principle, I am too. There is no doubt in my mind that Trump has met the criteria for impeachment in spades.
However, it’s not that simple.
Why Republicans Won’t Impeach
The main problem is that today’s Republican Party is no longer one of principles. (And we must admit it was once that, even if we didn’t agree with those principles.) It has a disease destroying it from within: Trumpism.
In the past, many, Republican politicians would be calling to impeach Trump on the evidence of the Mueller Report. Nowadays, they lack the ability to stand up to him.
In addition, many of them are in the difficult position of having a majority of their electorates part of the Trump Cult. That Cult may only be a third of the population. But in red states, it’s frequently more than half. If they vote to impeach, they will likely no longer be the candidate for their party. The candidacy will go to someone who supports Trump no matter what. That may be even worse than what their state has now.
If Trump Were a Democrat
The fact that the Republicans are failing to keep the oath they took to the US Constitution is more obvious when you imagine if the situation was reversed. What if it was a Democratic president in a Mueller Report scenario?
When that question comes up, Republicans tend to refer to Bill Clinton. But that was more than two decades ago. The times were different and the party was different. Further, I would argue that there weren’t genuine grounds for impeachment in any case. (I’ll get back to that below.)
You only have to look at the way Senator Al Franken was forced to resign in the wake of the #MeToo movement to see how the Democratic Party handles poor behaviour today. Franken’s indiscretions were mild in comparison to those of Trump, and we’re just talking about sexual misconduct here.
Trump is also guilty of appalling behaviour in multiple other areas. However, the same Republicans (e.g. Vice-President Mike Pence and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell) who thought Clinton should go because he was a poor example of moral behaviour continue to support Trump.
Take a look at this short video of things Fox News hosts and guests said about President Obama. Most of these people are now on the Trump Train.
Nancy Pelosi (D-California)
I think there’s a very good reason why House Leader Nancy Pelosi and the other Democratic Party leadership are not yet ready to move to impeach. Her decision is political, and I think she is right. That’s the case I make here.
However, in the face of a growing chorus of party members calling for impeachment, she has now said that if the investigation takes them there, that’s what they will do. I think that was the case all along, but she didn’t want to say it out loud. In the last few days though, senators as senior and thoughtful as Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Kamala Harris (California) are calling for impeachment.
It was following Warren’s statement that Pelosi gave her update. Unlike calls from people like Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez (New York), Warren’s wasn’t one Pelosi could ignore.
Currently, A Majority Oppose A Move to Impeach
In an SSRS Research/CNN poll (link to PDF) conducted recently, 59% oppose impeachment, with only 36% approving. Those numbers are both the highest in opposition and the lowest in support of impeachment since CNN began asking the question. Remember too, that there will always be a percentage of the public that supports impeaching an opposition president. In July 2014, for example, 33% of the electorate thought President Obama should be impeached.
I suspect numbers may be higher now than they were at the time of the poll, but we have to remember that not everyone can see Trump’s faults. Fareed Zakaria put it perfectly in his Washington Post column:
Consider, for a moment, what the growing talk of impeachment among Democrats sounds like to the tens of millions of people who voted for President Trump. Many of them supported him because they felt ignored, mocked and condescended to by the country’s urban, educated and cosmopolitan elites — especially lawyers and journalists. So what happens when their guy gets elected? These same elites pursue a series of maneuvers to try to overturn the results of the 2016 election. It would massively increase the class resentment that feeds support for the president. It would turn the topic away from his misdeeds and toward the Democrats’ overreach and obsessions.
Zakaria goes on, making what I think is one of the most important points when deciding what to do:
And ultimately, of course, it would fail — two-thirds of this Republican-controlled Senate would not vote to convict him — allowing Trump to brandish his “acquittal” as though it were a gold medal.
Lessons from History
One of my favourite quotes is Churchill’s, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”* In the case of impeachment, they only need to go back as far as Nixon and Bill Clinton, and they don’t even need the in-depth knowledge of an historian. There are millions of us who can still remember both events, even if we weren’t taking a lot of notice of US politics at the time.
Lesson I: The Nixon Era
Anyone with an ounce of integrity is critical of the failure of Republicans to stand up to Trump. However, we must also remember that there was only one Republican politician that voted against Nixon in all three votes.
Larry Hogan was the only Republican to vote for all three Nixon articles of impeachment. He quoted Abraham Lincoln saying: “We cannot escape history.” #RepublicansForImpeachment pic.twitter.com/wQ2jiLtdmk
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) April 23, 2019
Others made the move to the side of impeachment as the case was laid out in publicly broadcast hearings. The general public saw those hearings and the mood of the country underwent a change.
Lesson II: The Clinton Era
Republicans attempt to impeach Clinton was a failure. They never had the votes. In the end, Clinton came out more popular than ever. For years afterwards, he was the most popular Democratic politician in the country, maybe the world.
It’s true that there are plenty of us who can see the man Trump is. He doesn’t have the natural charm and charisma of Clinton and therefore will never rise to same heights of popularity. However, there will still be tens of millions who see the failure to impeach Trump as a vindication of their man.
So What To Do?
I think the Democrats need to do just what Pelosi and the other party leaders are doing. According to Reuters, “At least half a dozen committees of the U.S. Congress are investigating President Donald Trump …”. Further, Trump is “… is refusing to cooperate with most of them …”. (See the Reuters article for the names of the committees and a summary of what they’re looking into.)
As many of the proceedings of those committees as possible need be televised. Most people won’t read the Mueller Report. Trump’s supporters in particular will just take his and Barr’s words that it exonerates him. Those same supporters also won’t listen to any objective analysis of the report’s contents. Anything that throws a bad light on Trump they will assume is biased against him.
What they will do though, is watch committee hearings on TV, expecting to see Republicans give Democrats their comeuppance. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the realization will begin to dawn on many of them that the emperor has no clothes.
Once public opinion shifts, then Republican politicians will begin to support impeachment. That’s how the Democrats were able to succeed in the Nixon era. It was seeing the testimony of people like then White House counsel John Dean that led the general public to favour impeachment.
This, then is what needs to happen. Trump knows this too. That’s why he’s told people to ignore the subpoenas they’re receiving from congressional committees, and several are listening to him. Some committees are shortly to vote on whether to hold those ignoring subpoena’s so far in contempt of Congress.
Trump’s trying to slow walk the process until after the election. He knows that if the committees are able to make good progress before the election, he will lose enough votes that it could cost him that election.
On the other hand, as long as he’s in the White House, he cannot be indicted. The Mueller Report makes it clear, though I doubt there is a single member of the Trump cult who’s aware of it. Basically, Mueller says the main reason that he’s drawing a conclusion on whether Trump should face a charge of obstruction of justice is that a sitting president can’t be indicted. He further says it wouldn’t be fair to make that charge when Trump cannot have his day in court to answer it.
Mueller also made it clear that Trump could still face charges when he leaves office.
The Impeachment Process
I’ve rewritten much of my post after seeing Fareed Zakaria’s article today. He’s making the same case I am, but his words are better, so I’m using a lot of them. His article, linked to above, continues thus:
I know, I know, many argue passionately that this is not a political affair but rather a moral and legal one. After reading the Mueller report, they say, Congress has no option but to fulfill its obligation and impeach Trump. But this view misunderstands impeachment entirely. It is, by design, an inherently political process, not a legal one. That’s why the standard used — “high crimes and misdemeanors” — is not one used in criminal procedures. And that is why the decision is entrusted to a political body, Congress, not the courts.
In 1970, when he was House minority leader, Gerald Ford provided the most honest definition of an impeachable offense: “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
Zakaria goes on to write about the previous cases of impeachment in US history. He also writes about other major actions by presidents that were arguably illegal, but which didn’t lead to impeachment. e.g. the internment of Japanese USians during World War II.
As Fareed Zakaria says:
The Democrats have a much better path in front of them. They should pursue legitimate investigations of Trump, bring in witnesses and release documentary proof of wrongdoing, providing a national education about the way Trump has operated as president. But they should, at the same time, show the public that they would be a refreshing contrast to Trump — substantive, policy-oriented, civil and focused on the country, not on their narrow base. America is tired of the circus of Trump. That doesn’t mean they want the circus of the House Democrats.
Those who are calling for the impeachment of Trump are doing so because it’s the right thing to do. But sometimes it’s better not to do what on the surface seems to be the right thing in order to try and ensure the best result long-term.
A move to impeach Trump will fail. The Senate will not support it. This will enable Trump to go on the hustings and tell his followers how everyone was out to get him, but he won. They tried before the 2016 election, he will say, with their illegal spying on his campaign. Then they tried with the Mueller Report. After that, they tried to impeach him. At every turn he thwarted them because he is a winner.
In this way, the attempt to impeach Trump will win him votes. It may even ensure he wins the 2020 election.
The US (and the rest of the world) may survive two more years of Trump. Will it survive six?
So investigate Trump in committee, and do it publicly so the public can get an education on the reality of his administration. If the mood of the general public moves towards impeachment, then do so. Otherwise, the Democratic Party must not move to impeachment. Instead, the focus should be on defeating him at the ballot box, and convincingly.
To do that, they must give people a reason to vote for them, not just against Trump. He is weak on policy, and not as popular as he appears at his rallies, so it can he done despite the odds (and Russian troll farms) being on his side. A Democratic Party win must not be vulnerable to controversy.
Because in the end, what the country needs is for the next president to be a Democrat.
* Churchill paraphrased a quote from George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider donating a dollar or two to help keep the site going. Thank you.