Why a Trump impeachment should terrify you

President Donald Trump arrives to address the General Debate of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24. Li Muzi/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS

President Donald Trump deserves to be impeached. But the prospect terrifies me, and it should terrify you, too.

That’s not to say that it’s the wrong move. Arguably, it’s the only move, at least in terms of fidelity to the Constitution and to basic decency. From the moment that Trump stepped into the office of the presidency, he has degraded it — with words that a president has no business speaking (or tweeting); with ceaseless lies; with infantile and often unhinged behavior; with raging conflicts of interest; with managerial ineptitude; with a rapacious ego that’s never sated; and with foreign dealings that compromise America’s values, independence and interests. How can principled lawmakers not tell him, in the most emphatic manner available, that enough is enough?

But there’s no way to say what happens now that a formal impeachment inquiry is being opened. None. You’re going to hear a lot in coming days and weeks about Bill Clinton, but using the example of his impeachment in late 1998 is a bit ridiculous: He was a very different president accused of very different offenses at a very different time. Besides which, political analysts who do cite it don’t agree on the lessons. So a pundit making confident predictions about the political fallout from the impeachment of Trump is a pundit far out on a slender limb.

Any scenario is possible, including one in which impeachment redounds to Trump’s benefit and increases the chances of his reelection because he paints himself a martyr, eludes conviction in the Senate, frames that as exoneration and watches his fans mobilize and turn out as never before. And a second Trump term wouldn’t just be the sadly suboptimal byproduct of a noble stand; it would be disastrous. Morally as well as practically, limiting this unfit, amoral, unsteady man’s time in the presidency takes precedence over any small cluster of sentences written centuries ago.

But while an impeachment’s effect on November 2020 is unknowable, its effect on us as a nation is almost certain. A dangerously polarized and often viciously partisan country would grow more so, with people on opposing sides hunkering down deeper in their camps and clinging harder to their chosen narratives as the president — concerned only with himself — ratcheted up his insistence that truth itself was subjective and up for grabs.

That’s not a reason to blink, but it’s a reality to brace for. At a juncture when we so desperately need to rediscover common ground, we’d be widening the fault lines. Bringing the country together afterward would call for more than a talented politician; it would demand a miracle worker. None of the Democratic presidential candidates qualify.

Impeachment should terrify you because it would mean a continued, relentless, overwhelming focus on Trump’s lawlessness, antics, fictions and inane tweets. He would win in the short term — and all Americans would lose — because as long as most of the oxygen in Washington is consumed by the ghastly carnival of this barker, there’s too little left for the nation’s very real problems and for scrutiny of his substantive inadequacy in addressing them.

From the House Republicans’ persecution of Hillary Clinton though the permanent hysteria of House Democrats under Trump, Washington has devolved ever further into a place where process muscles out progress, grandstanding eclipses governing and noise muffles any meaningful signal. To be engaged in politics is to be engaged in battle — and that shouldn’t and needn’t always be so.

Where’s the infrastructure plan that we’re — oh — a quarter-century late in implementing? Where are the fixes to a health care system whose problems go far beyond the tens of millions of Americans still uninsured? What about education? Impeachment would shove all of those issues even further to the margins than it already is.

During the Democratic primary and then the general election, the Trump melodrama and the Trump spectacle would overshadow all else. And many Americans’ estrangement from Washington — their cynicism about its ability to improve their lives even a whit — would intensify.

That could be all the more true on account of their confusion. If you’re favorably disposed toward Trump and receptive to his claims of persecution, you’ve watched the meticulous and drawn-out work of Robert Mueller, you’ve noticed a seemingly nonstop schedule of Capitol Hill hearings and of star witnesses (Michael Cohen, Mueller, Bill Barr, Corey Lewandowski), and you thought that the House Judiciary Committee was already doing an impeachment inquiry. The latest developments strike you as “Groundhog Day” on the Potomac.

If you’re horribly offended and utterly exhausted by Trump, you’re tempted to cheer impeachment as long-sought justice and prayed-for release and forget that it’s just the prelude to the main act, which is a trial in the Senate. That chamber is controlled by Republicans, who, based on current conditions, are as likely to convict Trump as they are to co-sponsor Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax. So Trump’s supporters would wind up furious that he was put through what they regarded as an overwrought exercise with a foregone conclusion, while the frustration of Trump’s detractors would be exponentially multiplied. Let the healing begin!

And would impeachment proceedings effectively lay bare — and force Americans to focus on — sins of Trump’s that are being ignored? That’s long been one of Democrats’ arguments for impeachment, but I wonder. For starters, some of the hearings to date — Lewandowski’s in particular — raise questions about their ability to pry loose what they want from witnesses and isolate the damning evidence amid the ambient vitriol. But more than that, there has been such saturation coverage of Trump that many voters may not be able to stomach it any more, and today’s political tribalism doesn’t allow for all that much in the way of epiphanies and transformations. Trump’s true colors were conspicuous from the start. You either saw a perverse rainbow or you stared into darkness.

Meanwhile, Trump. How vulnerable will drawn-out impeachment proceedings make him feel? How impotent? How desperate? To flex his power, vent his fury or distract the audience, what would he do? He’s untethered by scruple. He’s capable of anything. Maybe it’s not just a culture war that he’d whip up. Maybe it’s the real thing.

Certainly he’d do all he could to convince Americans of the nefariousness of Democrats, and absolutely his strategy would be to smear the people, the procedures and the institutions arrayed against him as utterly unworthy of trust. If holding on to power meant ruling over rubble, so be it. Trump is beholden only to Trump, and he’d simply declare the rubble gold dust.

Frank Bruni writes for the New York Times.

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(27) comments

Holmes

If the democrats impeach President Trump that will ensure one thing, Obama will be the last democrat pres...

hermit thrush

right, just like how there was never another gop president after republicans impeached bill clinton.

Holmes -- the real one

LOL, phony Holmes.

Reality bites.

Gracie02

They couldn't impeach Clinton in 98 when Rebs held the House/Newt Gingrich, and Rebs controlled the Senate- Trent Lott... so how are they going to Impeach Trump when the Senate is controlled by the Reb's....and it takes 2/3's vote... Not sure why everyone's so excited... not a Trump fan by far...but do the math..

rdsouth

The point is to put a mark of shame on Trump's legacy and to display his failings at length and in public (as if they weren't on display every day at length and in public). The point is free publicity to try and influence the 2020 election.

Fwfigher

Ok, this is your impeachment shot. You're one and only shot. Go for it. Better make the best of it, because when it fails you can't come back in a week, or a month, or 6 months and say...well we messed that last one up, let's try this one instead. That would be too transparent that it WAS a witch hunt and get the yellow flag for piling on!

hermit thrush

says who?

you know, the thing is, if trump keeps committing crimes and impeachable acts, he's going to keep getting in trouble.

hermit thrush

Richard Engel

@RichardEngel

A former Ukrainian lawmaker deeply familiar with the Giuliani dirt-digging campaign told me Trump's phone call to the Ukrainian president asking for an investigation into the Bidens, while withholding vital military aid, was "pressure," "blackmail," and "quid pro quo." https://twitter.com/RichardEngel/status/1178797093684678656

hermit thrush

Aaron Rupar

@atrupar

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano: "The president of the United States using foreign governments to influence domestic politics -- that was the fear of the framers when they put that impeachment clause in the Constitution." https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/1178768377747312640

Holmes -- the real one

Just so.

Holmes

For almost 3 years all they have done is screech impeachment. If they had a strong case for Impeachment, they'd have impeached him already. Oh, and they wouldn't be on vacation now.

LAW

That's a lie, Comrade.



The Democrats DID NOT EVER "screech impeachment", if you even know what that means. It was, and is, the REPUBLICANS who did and are screaming the lie that Democrats want impeachment, Comrade.



As they lie about every thing else:

"Mexico will pay for the Wall"

"I'll release my taxes"

"There is a replacement for NAFTA"

"China will pay the tariffs"

"I'll never play golf"

"I'm not lining my pockets by being President"

"I'm losing money doing this:



yada. yada. yada.

Holmes -- the real one

Well, apparently lies (even demonstrable falsehoods) are just opinions -- at least to the editor of NNY360.

Coming soon:

"It's my opinion that the earth is flat.

Sir, we have scientific evidence that the earth is not flat.

Well, that's my opinion."

Holmes

That’s right “opinion” not a fact...

Holmes -- the real one

To Holmes (the fake one) -- your reply, stating, "... "opinion" not a fact," appears to say that stating something that you yourself know is demonstrably false qualifies as "opinion." Sort of an "alternative facts" kind of thing?

See, my problem with this is that you are equating opinion with a lie. Normally people do not adopt what they know to be untrue as their opinion. If this is what you are asserting, it's a new way to think about opinions -- almost as if you are defending your right to believe a lie (which it is), but it is also your right to tell lies (with no concern about the harm that may come to others when you do so.)

If that truly represents what you are asserting, that is a remarkable belief. If it is not, please clarify.

Holmes

Still waiting for the specific code or law that President Trump allegedly violated. If there was one the Democrats would have screeched it by now. Trump is always two steps ahead of the Democrats.

hermit thrush

not all impeachable offenses are a violation of the law, and not all violations of the law are impeachable offenses. impeachment is fundamentally a political act.

and sorry, extorting a foreign power to fabricate dirt on your domestic political rival is off-the-charts impeachable.

hermit thrush

also, have you ever heard of obstruction of justice?

have you ever heard of the emoluments clause?

also too, trump committed a felony campaign finance violation by paying off stormy daniels.

Holmes -- the real one

Be patient -- there is a lot coming.

Even 3 steps won't help him now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM3jgkChV6M

Airball55

NAme calling and personal attack should not be allowed on this forum. Your comrade attack is tiring and hateful. I man sure the moderator is coming.

Holmes -- the real one

Wow -- that's really jumping to conclusions. A comrade is one who shares activities -- such as posting on these comment boards. Check your dictionary.

There has been no name calling whatsoever by replies to you.

Although you might want to check your own comment history.

hermit thrush

what must be going through your head if you think "comrade" is hateful.

hermit thrush

just imagine if a democrat did what trump did!

Holmes -- the real one

And Republicans knew his history long before they backed him.

They knew perfectly well that they were nominating a psychopath with a sanctimonious religious hypocrite for VP.

Airball55

Cmon Holmes. Real one. Healthy discourse is one thing. I find it fascinating how people like you rally against hate speech and then promote it when it fits your narrative. Sad times. But I bid you good day sir.

Holmes -- the real one

Airball55 --

Vigorous discourse needn't require slurs or insults. Conversation should simply progress with each side making a statement and the other side responding. Why does that seem so difficult for some people to do without slipping in a gratuitous insult?

I do not participate in hate speech, nor do I support it or condone it.

You are the one who keeps using the "hate" word here and in other forums, -- this makes me wonder why this seems to be on the tip of your tongue so much.

Holmes -- the real one

Check back on your own comments. Glass houses and all that....

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