Impeachment – A Missed Opportunity

The only grounds the Constitution specifies for impeachable offenses are “high crimes and misdemeanors”. These are pretty vague terms, which would be a glaring problem if impeachment was primarily a legal process rather than a political one. Were it a legal process conducted by the judiciary, somewhere in the last 232 years, case law would have defined what the Founders failed to specify.

As it is, all we have is historical precedent, and if impeachment and removal is a check on the executive by the legislature, the legislature has shown no interest in exercising it in any meaningful way.

I don’t know that the claim that Americans unwittingly commit three felonies a day has been proven. However, given how numerous our laws have become, and how publicly available information is on individuals – especially news-makers – it’s believable. You would think any modern President could be impeached several times over if “misdemeanors” are impeachable offenses.

When considering removal of office, one would think that a political standard in a world where all Presidents are guilty enough to be subject to the process (if there’s enough popular will) would be whether or not one preferred his replacement. #PresidentPence. Of course, removal from office isn’t the same thing as impeachment.

Impeachment is, essentially, the House recommending the Senate vote to remove a President from office. However, there is no reason why impeachment proceedings would be confined, in the real world, to an aim of removal. Which brings us to today.

If the Democrat-controlled House pushed it, they could probably get an impeachment through on Trump. But the Republican-controlled Senate certainly wouldn’t actually remove him. Should they? Is it worth the Democrats’ time to pursue a black mark without any possibility of actual removal?

Of course there are political calculations made by politicians, which are completely divorced from what is “right” or “wrong” public policy. That’s how most laws are made and most congressional hearings run. Questions exclusively about whether proceedings help or hurt their party, or help or hurt Trump, rather than asking whether it’s good for the country. There are plenty of questions that fall more under how this helps or hurts his re-election prospects, or the election prospects of congressmen, rather than just standards or questions of guilt or innocence. Whether pursuing this would make the Democrats look weak and petty after they failed the legal route. Or whether it would make Trump look as dirty as they suspect by airing Mueller’s laundry rather than anything involving fairness or precedence. Whether Republicans are forced to go on record defending an unpopular President. That kind of thing.

Personally, I’m not as interested in the political ramifications. In the last Presidential election, I didn’t support Trump or Hillary. I can’t imagine myself supporting him or any of his likely Democrat challengers next time, either. As such, I think I’m a relatively unbiased political junkie.

So what are the actual arguments made for impeachment when removal is unlikely? Near as I can tell, most boil down to Congress needing to “hold the President accountable” to “show the world and future generations what America stands for”. That we would hold Presidents accountable for certain “standards of ethics”. That it’s about sending a message.

“Standards of ethics”.

Normally, I’m opposed to anything that reeks of ‘whataboutism’. Just because previous Presidents or Congresses did something bad too, doesn’t make what’s currently happening okay. Similar bad actions in the past don’t excuse future ones, and if anything we should be learning from them. But in this case, it matters because it shows what America will and won’t stand for, simultaneously.

What message does impeachment over obstruction of justice really send about America’s standard of ethics? From where I’m standing, it doesn’t seem to be a positive one.

The message it seems to send is that it’s perfectly acceptable for Presidents to literally kill without consequence – from Somalia to Yemen, from Libya to Iraq, from Waco to Kent State, from death squads in South America to the fields of Cambodia, from weddings to hospitals, from children to “military aged males within a strike zone“. Especially absent congressional declarations.

It says it’s perfectly acceptable to hold suspects indefinitely without charge or trial, waterboard them, and silence journalists. To place American citizens in internment camps based on nothing other than their ethnicity. To outsource torture to other nations, or to redefine the term in order to do it ourselves.

It says there will be no consequence to arming groups that have issued fatwas against us and pursue genocide, to drug cartels, to Israel and Saudi Arabia despite what they do with those weapons.

But what is impeachable is  allegedly obstructing an investigation or lying to Congress about a blowjob.

There’s plenty to impeach Trump for that falls under high crimes and misdemeanors, regardless of whether or not he’s actually guilty of any of the ten instances of potential obstruction in the Mueller report. Impeachment shouldn’t be as rare as it is. But if impeachment sends a message about what this country does and doesn’t accept from our leaders… obstruction and perjury aren’t anywhere close to the least acceptable acts by the executive branch the last few decades.

I’m not making a case against impeachment here – just a case that we’ve missed opportunities. The fact that our leaders can be punished is important, and so is what they’re punished for. But what we don’t do, what we allow to happen with impunity, can send just as clear a message about what our national priorities truly are.


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