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Don’t Want to Live your Life Counting on an Impeachment Fantasy

Donald Trump VictoryNow that the electoral college fantasies are receding in our rear-view mirrors, the next stop on the fantasy tour is impeachment.  While Robert Kuttner in a HuffPo piece (Impeaching Trump) rightly calls the EC fantasies and other potential ways to thwart a Trump presidency, “magical thinking,” he then engages in some of his own regarding impeachment.

He correctly notes:

There is only one constitutional way to remove a president, and that is via impeachment.

However, from there it is all down hill in my opinion:

What’s needed is a citizens’ impeachment inquiry, to begin on Trump’s first day in office.

The inquiry should keep a running dossier, and forward updates at least weekly to the House Judiciary Committee. There will be no lack of evidence.

The materials should be made public via a website. The inquiry should be conducted by a distinguished panel whose high-mindedness and credentials are, well, unimpeachable.

There needs to be a parallel public campaign, pressing for an official investigation. For those appalled by Trump, who wonder where to focus their efforts, here is something concrete―and more realistic than it may seem.

Trump has already committed grave misdeeds of the kind that the Constitutional founders described as high crimes and misdemeanors. With his commingling of his official duties and his personal enrichment, Trump will be in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which unambiguously prohibits any person holding public office from profiting from gifts or financial benefits from “any king, prince or Foreign state.”

I am not opposed to attempts to act as a watchdog over the actions of a Trump administration, although a “citizens’ impeachment inquiry” strikes me as a bit grandiose, if not pompous.  Beyond that, however, while some may think that “Trump has already committed grave misdeeds of the kind that the Constitutional founders described as high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional truth is that only one body has the authority to make that assessment:  the US House of Representatives, and they are in no mood to investigate Trump.

It is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely that a Republican controlled Congress is going to find a Republican President guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” based on information that we currently have.  Keep in mind that President Clinton was impeached by a Republican House and Nixon would have been impeached (had he not resigned) by a Democratically controlled House.

I am not saying that impeachment is impossible (although one has to admit it is rather improbable), but I would note specifically that arguments such as Kuttner’s (and I have seen others) assume that Trump has more or less already engaged in impeachable activities (e.g., “In his dalliance with Vladimir Putin, Trump’s actions are skirting treason”), not necessarily looking to potential future events (although they tend to assume those as well).  Here’s the problem:  the only people who have convinced themselves that Trump is corrupt and ripe for impeachment are the same people who voted against him. Shockingly, many of those individuals think that Trump will be a disaster and are predisposed to be incredibly critical of his every action.  Such persons cannot understand, in many cases, how Trump won the election in the first place and assume (incorrectly) that the more Trump is exposed to the spotlight, the more obvious his flaws will be to everyone (while this may yet prove to be the case, it has not in the short run-or, for that matter, over the course of a lengthy campaign).  It was that type of flawed thinking that allowed some to convince themselves of that the “Hamilton electors” would “save us” from Trump.

For impeachment (let alone removal in the Senate) to occur, there has to be a clear, identifiable action that will sway Republican voters of the President’s guilt.  It will be manifestly insufficient for Democratic voters to see Trump as corrupt.  A Republican House will act against a Republican President if, and only if, that President has so angered the population that opposing him would be politically expedient.  Despite what many who are opposed to a Trump administration may think, we are nowhere near such a point.  Rather, Republicans are currently in a triumphant mood and looking to pursue their legislative agenda.  Impeaching their incoming president is the farthest thing from their minds.

Also:  I would note that when some Republicans stated that they would pursue impeachment of Clinton on day one of her administration, many noted the absurdity of the claim (seeing as how one cannot be impeached for actions one did prior to being president).  The same logic applies in this case.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    I don’t know if I’d go as far a highly unlikely. Trump could be impeached in two scenarios: a) he does something so egregious the Rs feel they must impeach him to defend their own cockamamie jobs, or b) the Rs in congress decide that they really, really want Pence as prez instead of Trump.

    I admit a) is highly unlikely. Not the part about Trump committing some egregious offense but the part about the Rs caring.

    On the other hand, if Trump really kills trade deals, deports illegal immigrants, undercuts NATO, etc. I can easily see enough R lobbyists getting upset for b). If they decide they want to do it, grounds should be easy to whip up. And if not, Gowdy should be able to hold interminable hearings and invent something.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  2. S. Fields says:

    …Nixon would have been impeached (had he not resigned) by a Democratically controlled House.

    Though I agree it is highly unlikely that a Republican House would act to impeach Trump, a resignation strikes me as a real possibility.

    If his behavior during the transition is any indication, Trump has no interest in putting in the hard work required to do the job he was elected to do. At some point, even an egomaniac like Trump would come to realize the trappings of the office are greatly outweighed by the responsibilities of the office. When it stops being fun for him – when the adulation he craves no longer drowns out the scorn thrown at him – he’ll want out.

    He’ll come up with some cockamamie reason why it’s someone else’s fault (maybe Hillary’s) and in collusion with the Republicans, who would rather have Pence anyway, he’ll walk away. Probably with some profit secreted away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  3. S. Fields says:

    …Nixon would have been impeached (had he not resigned) by a Democratically controlled House.

    Though I agree it is highly unlikely that a Republican House would act to impeach Trump, a resignation strikes me as a real possibility.

    If his behavior during the transition is any indication, Trump has no interest in putting in the hard work required to do the job he was elected to do. At some point, even an egomaniac like Trump would come to realize the trappings of the office are greatly outweighed by the responsibilities of the office. When it stops being fun for him – when the adulation he craves no longer drowns out the scorn thrown at him – he’ll want out.

    He’ll come up with some cockamamie reason why it’s someone else’s fault (maybe Hillary’s) and in collusion with the Republicans, who would rather have Pence anyway, he’ll walk away. Probably with some profit secreted away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  4. Pch101 says:

    Once again: Complaining serves to destabilize the presidency of the party in power and to build support for the opposing party. Constantly challenging the president’s (or in this case, the president-sort-of-elect) legitimacy is a tactic.

    If you have any doubts that this can be effective, then ask yourself how the GOP keeps its base motivated. The constant outrage keeps them hungry to defeat their enemy. They don’t just articulate fear, but they also want combat.

    The Dems need to return the favor. If the Republicans want war, then give it to them. (Just be sure to defeat them eventually, with the understand that this requires playing the long game.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  5. James Pearce says:

    Rather, Republicans are currently in a triumphant mood and looking to pursue their legislative agenda.

    The Day 1 reversals of all of Obama’s EOs alone will be worth it. They’re not going to impeach Trump. They’re going to become him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. @James Pearce:

    They’re not going to impeach Trump. They’re going to become him.

    This seems more likely.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Pch101:

    Prof. Taylor is correct that impeachment is a fool’s errand, but liberals enraging the base isn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. Pch101 says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Prof. Taylor is correct that impeachment is a fool’s errand, but liberals enraging the base isn’t.

    If the latter is correct, then the former is not only isn’t a fool’s errand, but it’s a great idea.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. rachel says:

    A Republican House will act against a Republican President if, and only if, that President has so angered the population that opposing him would be politically expedient.

    Yes, this in a nutshell is the whole reason they’re not going to impeach Trump anytime soon. He’d probably resign out of boredom and frustration long before this incoming Congress would move to impeach him. Not that I think that’ll happen either. I think he’s going to realize (if he hasn’t already) that he’s mounted a tiger that will eat up his fortune as soon as he gets off it. So no resignation either. Barring a worse disaster, we are stuck with him for the next four years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Obligatory:

    “:So you’re tellin’ me: there’s a chance … YEAH !!! ”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5jNnDMfxA

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. dxq says:

    of course they’re going to become him. They just voted to weaken ethics oversight. If trump’s going to kleptocrat, they want their cut too.

    I just saw a commenter at RedState say this was okay because the independent ethics oversight was “A Democrat / Nancy Pelosi organization”.

    Ethics are from those corrupt Democrats! Get rid of them!

    Bizarro World.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Good. I don’t want him impeached. Aside from the fact that his replacement is orders of magnitude worse, he can be counted on to f’k up everything he touches for the next four years. Tie that in with an overreaching Republican Congress and it’s a gift for Dems.

    We just have to be prepared to make use of it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  14. Guarneri says:

    “Here’s the problem: the only people who have convinced themselves that Trump is corrupt and ripe for impeachment are the same people who voted against him. Shockingly, many of those individuals think that Trump will be a disaster and are predisposed to be incredibly critical of his every action. Such persons cannot understand, in many cases, how Trump won the election in the first place and assume (incorrectly) that the more Trump is exposed to the spotlight, the more obvious his flaws will be to everyone (while this may yet prove to be the case, it has not in the short run-or, for that matter, over the course of a lengthy campaign”

    So you are saying most of the commenters here want impeachment…………..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  15. Gustopher says:

    Don’t want a Citizen’s Impeachment Inquiry, I want a House Minority Impeachment Inquiry and a Senate Minority Impeachment Inquiry. Keep the corruption front and center from a day one, and challenge the Republicans to impeach or embrace.

    The Republicans either own this scumbag, or they oppose him. Let’s see them own up to that in 2018.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Guarneri: I want embattled President Trump to lead his party into defeat in 2018, despite the structural obstacles there.

    I’m not convinced President Pence is any better than President Trump, though. Is he less likely to lead us into a nuclear war? Maybe. Maybe not. Unless we have some idea on that, I would prefer an embattled, damaged and ineffective President than a hard core right wing President announcing that now that our national nightmare is over, we should eliminate social security and send every taxpayer a Bible and a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Note: speaking of overreaching congressional Republicans

    Nothing says “we’re corrupt” quite like voting to gut independent ethics oversight … :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  18. george says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Its interesting that on the one hand people are saying that Trump lowered the bar, and on the other hand there’s the sentiment among many that any other major Republican would be worse (you refer to Pence, but its common to hear the same said about Cruz etc) … that is, if anything Trump is above the GOP standard for many.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  19. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @george:

    I use worse in the context of “Trump is too incompetent to orchestrate planned malevolence. His fiasco will be the reactionary product of being inept.”

    Pence isn’t inept; he’s malignant. There is a difference.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 2

  20. C. Clavin says:

    the constitutional truth is that only one body has the authority to make that assessment: the US House of Representatives, and they are in no mood to investigate Trump.

    The House just abolished the Office of Congressional Ethics…so the idea that they are going to provide any oversight over the Trump administration is laughable.
    Welcome back to the days of Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert.
    Dark days are upon the Republic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  21. wr says:

    @HarvardLaw92: “Nothing says “we’re corrupt” quite like voting to gut independent ethics oversight …”

    But will anyone care? Andrew Cuomo killed his own ethics commission the second it started investigating his friends, and he’s doing just fine.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  22. dxq says:

    User Actions
    Following

    emptywheel
    ‏@emptywheel emptywheel Retweeted BuzzFeed News
    Wonder what the GOP did before Jan 2011 they don’t want to be held accountable for?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  23. dxq says:

    that’s something very specific–‘you can’t investigate anything before jan 3, 2011.’

    Not 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. 6 years ago.

    They did Something.

    Anybody who votes republican at this point ought to be put on a boat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  24. Tony W says:

    @S. Fields: Resignation is just as much of a fantasy as EC and impeachment. Trump won’t quit. We’re stuck for at least 4 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  25. Tony W says:

    @Gustopher:

    send every taxpayer a Bible and a copy of Atlas Shrugged.

    I’ve always appreciated the irony of the religious right worshiping a manifesto of greed

    They also don’t seem to understand that Rand was an atheist.

    Intellectual consistency is not their strongest suit

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  26. SenyorDave says:

    @george: that is, if anything Trump is above the GOP standard for many.

    I don’t think much of any of the major Republican players (Pence, McConnell, Ryan, etc.), but they aren’t sociopathic degenerates like Trump is. He bragged about committing sexual assault. He seems incapable of uttering a sentence without lying. He is a petty, vindictive bully who does things a six year old knows are wrong, like mocking a person’s disability. And for good measure, he’s ignorant of the most basic facts that a president needs to know, and couldn’t care less about learning them.

    A person like Donald Trump shouldn’t be a county commissioner, much less POTUS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  27. al-Alameda says:

    If a majority of the House wants to impeach an opposition President they can do it, for any reason, all they need to do is dress up their reasons in the cloak of respectability or legitimacy. They do not need actual high crimes or misdemeanors to impeach.

    Democrats, even if they controlled The House, would not impeach Trump because, unlike their Republican counterparts, they don’t have the stomach for the that kind of brass knuckles fight.

    Finally, frankly I’m surprised that Republicans did not initiate impeachment proceedings against Obama. I suppose that Republican congressional leadership concluded that their full-on obstruction of everything he did was sufficient.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  28. Slugger says:

    I don’t advocate using the Constitution as a bludgeon to get a partisan advantage. I think that Washington showed a great deal of foresight in warning against the harms that come from political parties.
    The purpose of impeachment talk is the delegitimization of Trump. This attempt to circumvent the electoral processes started in the early 1990’s when a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate a land deal, Whitewater, that was sleazy but well within the legal ways state governors enrich themselves. The prosecutor, Ken Starr, did not find sufficient evidence for a prima facie case against the Clintons and expanded his inquiry into every aspect of their lives till something was found. I think that open fishing scrutiny into everything that any person has done is going to turn up some crime unless that person actually is rather saintly. We were treated to sexual rectitude being defended by men like Newt Gingrich and Denny Hasert. Obama must have been exceptionally virtuous, and no allegations of material corruption nor sexual adventurism were made; however, we certainly got to hear plenty of accusations of foreign birth and secret adherence to Islam. Remember the promise of a videotape of Michelle ranting about “Whitey”?
    It seems to me that the Democrats have decided that a preemptive delegitimization is a useful strategy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Kylopod says:

    @Tony W:

    They also don’t seem to understand that Rand was an atheist.

    It’s even more than that. There’s nothing inconsistent about a religious person admiring some of the ideas of someone who happens to be an atheist. But Rand’s atheism wasn’t some side point; it was absolutely central to her moral philosophy, which was an explicit rejection of traditional Judeo-Christian ethics.

    Any elected Democrat would sooner swallow arsenic than offer even muted praise for the works of Karl Marx, but on the right enthusiastic cheerleading for Rand, who was every bit as radical and every bit as anti-religious as Marx, is not only regarded as kosher but is a common way by which GOP politicians establish their right-wing cred, and they manage to do this while somehow retaining their reputation as the party of religious folks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  30. Gustopher says:

    @Slugger:

    It seems to me that the Democrats have decided that a preemptive delegitimization is a useful strategy.

    I would say that Trump is thoroughly delegitimizing himself preemptively.

    No one is claiming that Trump was born in Kenya (or the Crimea, to fit his loyalties better), or that he is a secret muslim, or that there is a secret tape of Melina using racial slurs.

    The accusations about Trump tend to be true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  31. Pch101 says:

    The Bible provides a justification for absolutist thinking. For some, it also can be used to justify racism. (The Genesis story of the curse of Ham, etc.)

    Ayn Rand appeals to the desire to be selfish, which was once the sort of nasty habit that our parents were supposed to purge from us when we were toddlers.

    These make for a nice combo for one who wishes to be a self-centered a**hole who longs for an us-versus-them world that lacks nuance and where shades of gray don’t exist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  32. James in Bremerton says:

    Donald Trump isn’t a conservative, and not really a member of the GOP. They will impeach him when he gets in the way of GOP avarice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Tony W:

    I’ve always appreciated the irony of the religious right worshiping a manifesto of greed

    In politics, religion is simply a tribal totem, not a creed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  34. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @James Pearce: They already are him. Look at how they decided to oppose him–as Trump 2.0. They were Trump before Trump was Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  35. James Pearce says:

    @al-Alameda:

    unlike their Republican counterparts, they don’t have the stomach for the that kind of brass knuckles fight.

    This.

    Democrats should also reconsider their commitment to low-effort, low-yield strategies. The other day, I read this Facebook post from Brian Eno that went semi-viral and I was nodding my head, thinking “This is pretty good.” But then I got towards the end and his big idea on how to resist Trump was to subscribe to the NY Times.

    I wanted to throw my phone across the room, screaming “Are you kidding me?”

    I mean, yes, wear your safety pin. Subscribe to the NY Times. Post yet another hot take on the level of diversity in the new Star Wars movie. (A perennial article that will write itself again next year…) Make your Twitter jokes. Do all of those things.

    But we also need discipline, leadership, lawyers, money, and probably guns too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  36. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Alameda: More to the point is IIRC Gerald Ford’s assessment that high crimes and misdemeanors are “whatever we say they are.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  37. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Alameda:

    Finally, frankly I’m surprised that Republicans did not initiate impeachment proceedings against Obama. I suppose that Republican congressional leadership concluded that their full-on obstruction of everything he did was sufficient.

    I think they were stymied by squeaky clean Obama and the resultant lack of grounds that even they could read with a straight face.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  38. James Pearce says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    They already are him. Look at how they decided to oppose him

    I dunno….a lot of free market patriotic Republicans are only a month or so into their new identity as Russian stooges who believe in economic protectionism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. Kylopod says:

    @Pch101:

    For some, it also can be used to justify racism. (The Genesis story of the curse of Ham, etc.)

    The Curse of Ham story comes straight from Genesis, but the racial version of it (the idea that Ham was the progenitor of all Africans and that they were cursed with black skin) is entirely post-Biblical in origin.

    It was used in defense of slavery and Jim Crow, though the abolitionists and civil rights movement also heavily cited the Bible in their arguments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce: I’ve been thinking the same. I mean, yeah, outward signals of solidarity are great as far as they go, but we need real action. “Virtue signaling” isn’t enough. We have to stop talking and start doing.

    With that in mind, I have just heard about this, which seems very useful.

    https://www.indivisibleguide.com/web

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. george says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Personally I think Trump is a disaster waiting to happen, worse than any of the “normal” GOP because he could blunder into a nuclear holocaust or a collapse of the economy. Which means I think he lowered the bar, and quite drastically. However, if you think for instance Pence would be worse, than Trump represents raising the bar for the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. george says:

    @SenyorDave:

    I agree, but there are quite a few people suggesting that Pence or Cruz would be worse. In which case we have, in their opinion (not mine) dodged a bullet getting Trump rather than a different GOP President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  43. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    I mean, yeah, outward signals of solidarity are great as far as they go, but we need real action. “Virtue signaling” isn’t enough. We have to stop talking and start doing.

    It’s so good to hear you say that. Your link is excellent, too.

    I love that it dispenses with rallies and protests and encourages direct engagement with your elected representation.

    Here’s Robert Costa on the ethic committee flip-flop:

    Most members tell me blizzard of angry constituent calls were most impt factor in getting the House to sideline the amdt

    Believe that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0