While I do not support the impeachment and removal from office of President Trump, I recognize that there are thoughtful, decent people who disagree. Some of them are friends, and I respect them. But we should all agree that this process has been irredeemably political, hypocritical, and therefore, illegitimate.
I’ve resisted the urge, until now, to comment much on the impeachment of President Trump, largely because there’s so much nonsense being spewed from both sides that, as a principled person, I find myself constantly disagreeing with both. President Trump, being deliberately divisive, is a binary issue: you are either for him or against him, which is how he likes it, and which is perhaps the one thing on which he and his opponents agree. So anything and everything Trump becomes reductive, and issues of immense complexity, well beyond the expertise of even the well-educated, are suddenly accessible to all, since all one needs to know to form a strongly held opinion (confused for incontrovertible truth) is which side President Trump is on.
But there is still an intelligent discussion to be had for those remaining few still interested in such things, and I offer this as my one contribution to it.
In defense of President Trump, demanding an investigation as a condition of money being released (assuming that to be true) was a perfectly legitimate exercise of executive authority, with substantial precedent. As we know, the previous administration proudly conditioned the delivery of a similar amount of money to the same country on the firing of an executive branch member, and there are other such examples of executive policy denying congressionally allocated funds (such as our perpetually on again, off again Mexico City policy, which denies monetary assistance to countries that subsidize abortions). And because there was a legitimate national interest in investigating Vice President Biden’s curious interest in this one prosecutor who investigated a company which then hired (obviously for influence and protection from investigation) his manifestly unqualified son, it validates the request even if it was politically motivated. Yes, I’m sure Trump was gleeful about the prospect that he could catch Biden in some subterfuge through an investigation, but that doesn’t change the fact that Biden gave him something that demands investigation. And, in any event, Trump released the money anyway even without the investigation, so what’s the problem?
I am not a reflexive Trump supporter, but unlike every Trump detractor on the planet, I need to know more than whether or not I support the man to analyze issues specific to him. And I certainly can’t impeach a president just because he’s understandably happy that a political opponent tripped over his own feet, and put him in a position to nab him, which he then declined to do.
If President Trump had used his office to compel an investigation into Elizabeth Warren, I would agree he should be impeached, because Senator Warren has never done anything that warrants government investigation. But to the extent Trump used his powers to try to compel an investigation, it was specific to someone who should be investigated, and it should not matter that the target was a political opponent, because one does not get immunity from an investigation just by virtue of being a political opponent. You can’t, as sitting Vice President, do things that are impossibly stupid, and at worst, raise serious questions of illegality, and then call a foul because you’re running for office against an incumbent. What are we supposed to do, never investigate a potential presidential candidate if his opposition is in power? Nonsense. Joe Biden deserved, and still deserves to be investigated.
And yet, the same Democrats who demanded a two-year investigation into Trump’s apocryphal collusion with Russia (a naked slander masquerading as theory if ever there was one), now demand that we just take Joe Biden at his word when he says that he had no improper motives when he absolutely did collude with the Ukrainians to fire their prosecutor, in whom he strangely had a singular interest even though he supposedly had no idea that his reprobate son was on the payroll of the company that prosecutor investigated, despite Hunter literally following his father to China and Ukraine, and having a pattern of being involved with companies that his father helped. So Trump is the bad guy for raising questions about their guy that Democrats understandably do not want raised. That’s his real sin.
I recognize that there is a perfectly good case to be made for the impeachment of a president on the basis that his actions were at least somewhat politically motivated, because motive is an important factor, if not the most important factor. Any number of political decisions are impeachable if they are done for the wrong political reasons, but are perfectly legitimate otherwise. Is it impeachable to give missile secrets to the Chinese? Well, that depends on whether it’s done because we are allied in a war against a common enemy, or if it’s in exchange for contributions to the Democratic National Committee, for example. Is it impeachable for a president to do what New Jersey governor Chris Christie did, when he closed a bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey? Well, not if it’s done as part of a legitimate traffic study, but certainly if it was retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing him. Is it impeachable to sell uranium to the Russians, or promise military aid to Saudi Arabia? Not if there is a legitimate national interest, but if it’s in exchange for millions of dollars in donations to the Clinton Foundation then that’s a different story altogether. And what if, in these examples, the politician in question was motivated by both factors?
Motive matters. The problem is that there is rarely any one motive for any action, and every politician – arguably, every human behavior – is motivated by personal gain, even when the actions taken are not in and of themselves improper. So the question is really: to what extent is it impeachable to do the right thing for the wrong reason, at least in part?
Thoughtful people can disagree on this point, and it’s probably best left to a case-by-case analysis. And we should all agree that whatever the motivation, politicians should always strive to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, which did not occur here.
I therefore cannot pretend that President Trump did not bring this mess on himself. Just as Biden’s own conduct caused him to fall into Trump’s own lap, Trump has only himself to blame for this fiasco, doing something in the shadows that he should have known would cause the Democrats to at least feign outrage if discovered, all the while continuing to surround himself with unusually slimy people who make him look bad by association. He has known from day one that the Democrats were out to impeach him for something, anything, and he went out of his way to give them something to complain about, after his characteristically puerile behavior gave them control of Congress, and with it, the ability to use the legal process against him.
But neither can I pretend that this entire impeachment process has been anything but a political show trial. Indeed, perhaps the silliest aspect of this historically risible episode — more so even than the galling theatrics of Nancy Pelosi affecting solemnity while wearing funeral garb, or the breathless histrionics surrounding the term “quid pro quo” (Gasp! Was money given in exchange for something?) — are the specifics of the two “high crimes and misdemeanors” that Trump is charged with, minor details that, for reasons of convenience and know-it-all-ism, never seem to make it into the discussion.
The first count, alleging “abuse of office,” accuses President Trump of simply “harming the election prospects of a political opponent,” which could be said of anything anyone could do that would make it more likely to gain a vote. The count goes on to complain that he thereby “influenc[ed] the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage,” begging the question: what the holy heck doesn’t influence an election? The weather can influence an election! Put in plain English, this count is basically that Trump is guilty of making Biden look bad, which is because Biden’s actions do look bad!
It’s outrageous that we’ve allowed these Democrats to create a catch-all legal standard, characterized as a “high crime or misdemeanor,” so purposely undefined that it can be used against anyone at anytime for anything. It’s so broad, in fact, that they fall guilty of it, because, well, who doesn’t? Are these Democrats leading the impeachment charge not “harming the election prospects” of Trump, and every down-ballot Republican? Are they not (very deliberately and openly) trying to influence the 2020 election? Of course they are! They can barely contain their jubilation, and often don’t even try! Some of them are presently running against him for his office! Many more are raising money off of this, or using it as a wedge issue in their own elections. Should they all be removed from office for using their offices to “harm” Trump’s prospects and “influence” the election? This borders on absurdity. A perfectly legitimate and temporary exercise of executive authority does not suddenly become impeachable simply because it hurts an (undeclared) opponent’s political chances. To suggest otherwise is to criminalize basically every political action.
Worse yet, the second count — the deliberately nebulous “obstruction of Congress” charge — is even more offensive, because it goes straight to the heart of our system of law. If you want to impeach someone just because you don’t like him and you have the votes, fine, have at it. The British basically do that with their “vote of no confidence” process, and it does not offend their democracy. But to impeach a president, as the second count seeks to, for not complying with congressional subpoenas while the courts decide the legality of those subpoenas, is for Congress to abuse its own power, and to attack the Constitutional protection of due process under law, which each of us rely on to preserve our own selves and liberties.
While reasonable people can disagree on the extent to which political motivations should factor into political decisions, the same people who most strongly condemn Trump’s motivations should similarly condemn his impeachment as irredeemably political. And we should all reject with all fervency this Stalinist “show us the man, and we’ll show you the crime” process as being terribly incompatible with ordered government, where the accused is hated and therefore guilty, of what, precisely, we’ll figure out later.