A few hours from now, Donald J. Trump is likely to become the third President to be impeached by the House of Representatives in the more than 240 years of the Republic. As I write this, I’m sitting in the Capitol Hill Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the House floor. I might as well be home in Easton, given the divide I currently feel towards our politics.
To be clear, I believe Donald Trump should be impeached on many more counts than the two the House will consider tomorrow. Yes, he attempted to abuse his power by withholding both military aid and an Oval Office visit from the Ukraine, unless they investigated Joe Biden and his son. To be clear, that’s also an effort to extort a bribe. Trump also obstructed justice in his attempts to thwart Congressional oversight, refusing to turn over documents, make witnesses available, and ignoring subpoenas. Robert Mueller also made clear that Trump obstructed justice in his probe of election interference, particularly in limiting cooperation and firing the FBI Director. He also filed false reports of his campaign spending, when he failed to disclose his “hush money” payment to Stormy Daniels (and others) that he made when he wanted to keep the affair with the porn star quiet before the election. In addition to all of that, he is not disclosing the “gift” of free legal representation from Rudy Giuliani on his ethics forms (I’m not sure they’re a gift, but I digress). I’m leaving aside matters I consider to be of personal distaste, or his moral character, which I believe should be settled by the 2020 Election, not the impeachment process. I think he should be minimally impeached on articles of abuse of power, two counts of obstruction, bribery, falsification of campaign finance reports, falsification of an ethics report, and possibly extortion. In fact, I believe the House is wrong to vote on this matter until they have played out all legal disputes for additional testimony from people such as Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, and Secretary Pompeo, because let’s face it, then Senate isn’t going to force the testimony of anyone else. House Democrats cutting this short are short-changing Democracy. And again, I’m leaving aside all issues of policy differences, Trump’s capacity to serve, or his moral character. Those have no place here.
Here’s the other, obvious side of this, to me- this was both inevitable and completely pointless. From the day he took office, some House Democrats, and very many activists in our base wanted to impeach him for all the political and personal reasons we find him disgusting. To be clear, most of America, including some of the people who supported him in 2016, find him unacceptable- Trump is the first President in modern times to never average or sustain a 50% approval rating for any sustainable period of time in the first three years he sat in office. In fact, 2016 exit polls showed his Election Day approval at 38%, while he received 46% of the vote. A full 8% of America knew Trump was no good, and still preferred him to any other choice for President. Americans know what Donald Trump is, and don’t care. Nothing he did to Robert Mueller, the Ukraine, with Russia, to the Congress, or otherwise uncovered in this investigation is going to dramatically change anything. The televised hearings didn’t move public opinion. Shaming the GOP for supporting their President (who has mostly done what they wanted in delivering conservative judges, tax cuts, and deregulation), it didn’t work. You can make the Senate take any oath as jurors that you would like, Donald Trump will not be convicted and removed from office by 67 Senators. This is not in doubt. In fact, the outcome was inevitable. Trump supporters do not care that he is objectionable to the Democratic base, and in fact they like it, full stop. Democrats should have listened to the voices telling them this from the start, because this is a process with no point. Trump won’t have to wear a “scarlet letter” for being impeached, but perhaps the freshmen Democratic members representing actual competitive districts might, because we put them in the inevitably hard position of choosing between the just (holding Trump to account) and the good (working on politically popular items that would allow them to continue helping their constituents by being re-elected). History will show Trump to have looked like a clown, and absolutely no living person has any reason to care.
And so tomorrow we will have a historic moment in our Congress that will have little to no tangible impact on today. Your Facebook feed will be full of middle aged white men in red hats calling Speaker Pelosi and Democrats vile names, talking ignorantly about Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” that never existed. You’ll also have women in pink hats on your feed talking about how the “Senate must do the right thing,” and posting Capitol phone numbers to lobby Senators who have long since made up their mind, based on opinion back home. Some twitter warriors will call for Rep. Peterson (D-MN) to be primaried for voting “no” on impeachment (good luck ever holding that dark red seat without him). The noise will be loud. And for who, for what?
To be clear, again, I think Donald Trump deserves his historical designation as a crooked dumpster fire of a President tomorrow. I’m just failing to see what we all get from it. If Democrats had been able to subject Trump to the drumbeat of criminal accusations over the next year, much like Republicans did to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and ultimately moved a big chunk of that 8% that voted for him and disliked him to stay home, vote third party, or vote Democratic next year, a failed impeachment would have had tremendous value. As is, it feels like we appeased the loud voices in the party that never understood the value of this anyway.
Moving forward, it’s clear to me that we should not view impeachment through some sort of moral duty prism. There is no trigger in the constitution at which Congress is compelled to impeach. In fact the House chose to not impeach Vice-President Spiro Agnew in the 1970’s even as he was indicted and convicted of felonies. The only “successful” impeachment of our President was the Watergate process against Richard Nixon, which pushed him to resignation once we had broad national unity against him. Even though this standard would protect reprehensible people like Trump, it would also stop nonsense conversations that have no real value. You can’t impeach and convict a President unless their own party turns on them. It was true with Bill Clinton. It’s true today. Perhaps we’d be better off making that our standard.