SALT LAKE CITY — “Impeach Donald Trump.”
That’s the title of The Atlantic’s March cover story, written by senior editor Yoni Appelbaum. It’s not the first article that argues for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. But it is one of the few articles that emphasizes process over product — it is less interested in the actual impeachment of Trump than in the benefits of going through the impeachment process. It’s also an argument for why Congress shouldn’t be afraid to exercise its power to impeach our country's chief executive in general — sometimes the process can help to heal a fractured nation, Appelbaum argues.
Here are five key takeaways from Appelbaum’s article.
1. Whether or not Trump is actually impeached matters less than beginning the process of impeachment.
Appelbaum writes that many of the benefits of impeachment “accrue irrespective of its ultimate result. Impeachment is a process, not an outcome.”
This stance is essentially analogous to saying, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”
Appelbaum argues that even if Trump isn’t impeached, going through the process of impeachment will achieve its intended effect in five ways. First, it will take the ability to control public conversation out of the president’s hands. Second, because impeachment proceedings take up so much time and energy, they would curtail Trump's efforts to “advance the undemocratic elements of his agenda.” Third, the proceedings would help separate fact from fiction by distilling the list of things Trump has been accused of into a list of things that it can be proven he did. Fourth, it would minimize political violence by centering the Trump debates in Congressional hearings, not the public sphere. Fifth, an impeachment process would reduce Trump's future political prospects.
2. Trump deserves to be impeached because he has violated the presidential oath of office.
Appelbaum argues that Trump has violated the oath of office in several key ways. He has prioritized his personal gain over the common good, as exemplified by his use of the presidential platform to promote his own financial interests, including Mar-a-Lago and Trump International Hotel on Washington, D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue. He has also required that government officials pledge their loyalty to him, rather than to the public — he told ex-FBI director James Comey, whom he later fired, “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.”
Trump has also shown a lack of respect for the rule of law, attacking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller and complicating Mueller’s ability to conduct the Russia investigation. Lastly, he hasn’t respected Constitutional liberties, blocking entry to the United States based on religion (although this decision was later upheld by the Supreme Court) and referring to the press as the “enemy of the people.”
Appelbaum takes pains to point out that key Republicans have also questioned Trump's worthiness to bear the presidential title, including the late John McCain, R-Arizona, and freshman Utah senator Mitt Romney, both recent Republican presidential nominees.
3. The power to impeach a president exists for a reason, and we shouldn't be afraid to exercise it.
Many people fear that impeaching a president would lead to prolonged political and social instability.
But why would the Founding Fathers have included a provision for impeachment in the Constitution, if it endangered the peace, order and stability of the United States? Appelbaum asks rhetorically.
Of course, he points out, the most important check on the presidency is voters, who every four years have the opportunity to vote a president out of office if he or she isn’t performing satisfactorily.
“But the framers (of the Constitution) were concerned that a president could abuse his authority in ways that would undermine the democratic process and that could not wait to be addressed. So they created a mechanism for considering whether the president is subverting the rule of law of pursuing his own self-interest at the expense of the general welfare — in short, whether his continued tenure in office poses a threat to the republic. This mechanism is impeachment,” Appelbaum writes.
4. Trump’s impeachment would hinge on congressional interpretation of the constitutional phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
In the Constitution, impeachable offenses are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Treason and bribery have pretty straightforward definitions, and Trump can't be accused of either of them. However, the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” has proved harder to pin down, Appelbaum writes.
According to Yale law professor Charles L. Black, an authority on the interpretation of the clause, not all crimes are impeachable offenses, and not all impeachable offenses are crimes, Appelbaum reports.
Black has argued “high crimes and misdemeanors” should share key characteristics with treason and bribery: they are “extremely serious,” they “corrupt and subvert government and the political process,” and they are “self-evidently wrong to any person with a shred of honor.”
Appelbaum further clarifies the phrase with a 1974 House Judiciary Committee staff report, written during the Watergate investigation to impeach Richard Nixon, which defines impeachable acts as those that “undermin(e) the integrity of office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power, abuse of the governmental process, adverse impact on the system of government.”
5. Impeaching Trump would not backfire or make things worse.
Some worry that moving to impeach Trump would only weaken the presidency and force the president to bow to Congress’ will, which could set a dangerous precedent.
Appelbaum argues that “defenders of executive prerogatives should be the first to recognize that the presidency has more to gain than to lose from Trump’s impeachment,” because “Trump has done more to weaken executive authority than any recent president.”
Because of some of Trump’s orders, Appelbaum writes, judges have set precedents that will hem in future presidents' ability to make their own orders. In addition, Congress is considering measures to curtail his authority, and members of his own administration and party have written scathing op-eds against him.
“His opponents repeatedly aim at the man but hit the office,” Appelbaum writes.
In addition, Appelbaum dismisses the concern that a move to impeach Trump would only make him more popular (which happened with former president Bill Clinton).67 comments on this story
Appelbaum ends his essay by writing, "The gravest danger facing the country is not a Congress that seeks to measure the president against his oath — it is a president who fails to measure up to that solemn promise."
Although some members of Congress and other activists have introduced measures to impeach Trump, they haven't gone anywhere.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, recently told USA Today, “If there's to be grounds for impeachment of President Trump — and I’m not seeking those grounds — that would have to be so clearly bipartisan in terms of acceptance of it before I think we should go down any impeachment path.”