About this time in the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump announced that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
In the years since, his popularity among Republican voters has only risen, to the point that there is no room in the GOP for constitutionalists such as Justin Amash, who left the party and now appears likely to lose his House seat in Michigan under a blizzard of primary challengers funded by formerly friendly groups such as the Club for Growth.
The question of whether Trump should be removed from office for any one specific offense — Ukraine quid pro quo or otherwise — is a moot one.
I say “such as” Amash, but really he’s the only one. All the rest are more or less, and usually more, in the bag for Trump, and thus he will not be removed from office, not even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. For better or worse, and almost certainly worse, the party’s fate is tied to a prissy oaf whose very notions of truth and falsehood shift wildly according to whatever is foremost in his mind at any particular moment. As a man who has never been told “No” in his entire life — at least not in any way he’s felt bound to respect, and certainly not in any way backed by the force of law — his defining feature as president has been his shrill frustration, given incessant voice through his Twitter account, that he can’t just do completely as he wishes at all times in the manner to which he’s accustomed.
The question of whether he should be removed from office for any one specific offense — Ukraine quid pro quo or otherwise — is a moot one. He is monstrously corrupt, a vast sewer mouth that in no way strains at the gnat while in the midst of swallowing the camel. He is at once rapacious and remarkably petty; famously, he once dipped into his own Trump Foundation charity for $7 to pay Donald Jr.’s Boy Scout registration fee. As president, he has not hesitated to profit in ways either little or large: on the one end, he attempted to keep his failing golf resort in Scotland in the black by requiring military stopovers there. On the other end, he cozens the Saudis, likely not because our poisonous foreign-policy institutions favor them, but because they drop enormous sums at his hotels.
The corruption in the Trump White House outstrips any other, including the oft-cited example of Warren G. Harding, who at least had the excuse that those goings-on were carried out behind his back while he was kept busy playing cards, drinking illegal liquor, and cavorting with his mistress. Commentators may differ on whether l’affaire Ukraine is sufficient for Trump to be ousted — Judge Andrew Napolitano certainly thinks so — but it’s of a piece with his conduct in every other area of public life. When Trump runs into an obstacle he can’t remove through money or sheer will alone, he surrounds himself with people who advise him to plow ahead anyway. Such problems are of his own making, because he’s the one who chooses to bring on board the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Alan Dershowitz, John Bolton, and the rest of his deeply embarrassing cast of once and former surrogates. But he experiences them only as further frustrations, and thus digs himself even deeper when a lighter touch would have extricated him long ago. It’s not a temperament you would want in a chief executive, or really an authority figure of any sort, much less someone inhabiting the most powerful office in human history.
Which president of recent vintage would survive a genuinely independent inquiry into the misdeeds done in his name?
But the error is to rank Trump’s open corruption and, let’s say, criminal adjacency, as somehow worse than the more veiled corruption and crimes carried out by nearly every former occupant of the White House, and the squandering of cash on a magnitude that even a Trump can’t comprehend.
Take a look back. Which president of recent vintage would survive a genuinely independent inquiry into the misdeeds done in his name? Obama should have been impeached over Libya as well as his continuation, even acceleration of the George W. Bush-era projects of drone bombing, extraordinary rendition, and massive governmental bailouts. Bush should’ve been impeached for all of the above, though he wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to do most of it if, as should have happened, he’d already been impeached for lying the country into multiple disastrous wars. Clinton should’ve been impeached, not for lying about affairs or provincial land deals, but for his many stupid bombings of places such as Sudan and Serbia, his administration’s responses to Waco and Ruby Ridge, his own seedy corruption, and so on. George H.W. Bush should have been impeached for his role in Iran-Contra and his war in Nicaragua and, between those and whatever CIA undertakings he was involved with, he should never have been president to begin with — and wouldn’t have been, if Reagan had been justifiably impeached.
You can extend this line back as far as you wish, back even to our vaunted Founders. Perhaps the only president immune to the approach would be William Henry Harrison, and that’s because he spent his entire time in office dying. But even if you consider one or another of these cases to be a stretch, consider the benefits of a blanket impeachment policy. Each president would have to spend much of his ideally brief time in office preparing for his inevitable trial, and though not all of them would be removed from office, enough would that the personality cult of the job would be weakened. Both parties would be tied up in proceedings, which would pull their attention away from whatever blinkered ideological projects or rentseeking they were going to carry out, and also channel those whose egos demand constant time in the spotlight toward confrontations with each other rather than with the American public (or indeed, publics around the globe). Contrary to those such as the hilariously hypocritical Kenneth Starr, who lamented before Congress our “age of impeachment,” and asked “How did we get here?”, we need not fewer impeachments, but many, many more.
Perhaps the only president immune to the approach would be William Henry Harrison, and that’s because he spent his entire time in office dying.
Despite the attempt at separation of powers, the Constitution — as the Anti-Federalists foresaw — doesn’t actually allow for a lot of checks on a unitary executive determined to test every barrier and dare the system to stop him. Impeachment is just about it. And while the process itself is almost unbearably tedious, even that has its good side: those whose brains don’t fixate constantly on what’s happening in Washington DC can just tune out and get on with living their various lives.
So impeach and remove Trump. Then impeach and remove Mike Pence, preferably within seconds of his swearing-in. Then impeach and remove Nancy Pelosi, and so on down the line. It’ll take quite a while before you find anyone who can actually do the job. But along the way you’ll have gotten rid of a whole lot of people who can’t, and shouldn’t.