A couple of days ago, Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would begin formal impeachment hearings against President Trump. The left is over the moon about it. They’ve been calling for impeachment for months. The right thinks it’s just more harassment that’s interfering with the good job the president is doing. Setting aside the fact that the right’s position is just stupid, I find myself, as usual, feeling all alone in my opinions.
I should start by saying that I am extremely anti-Trump. I don’t think there’s any question that he is the worst president in our country’s history. Anything that gets him out of office is an unqualified good. But, I don’t think impeachment is the way to do that. Or, maybe I should say that while I recognize that impeachment is the formal, constitutional process of removing a president from power, I don’t think it will work in this case.
The most obvious reason is that the Republicans control the Senate. The House can do whatever it wants, but without the Senate, nothing will happen. There are some who believe that as long as the evidence is overwhelming enough, and it is overwhelming, the Senate’s hand will be forced and they will remove Trump from office. I think that’s just naïve. The evidence is overwhelming that universal background checks will help prevent gun violence and they are supported by 90% of Americans, but the Senate hasn’t bothered to act on that. The evidence is overwhelming that man-made climate change is making our planet inhospitable, but the Senate won’t act on that. They won’t act on impeachment.
Then there are those who think removing Trump from office is beside the point. The House should impeach anyway to hold the administration accountable. Many have even said that the House has a “duty” to impeach. First, there is no constitutional duty for the House to impeach a corrupt president. That part of the constitution is rather vague. It’s not like there is a set of criteria for impeachment and Trump has hit the criteria. The House has been investigating him from the minute he took office. Like everything else in Washington, it’s a political calculation whether to impeach or not. And second, impeachment proceedings will not hold anyone accountable unless the result is expulsion from office. Clinton was never held accountable for taking advantage of an intern and lying about it. Nixon was never held accountable for Watergate. Impeachment alone will not hold Trump accountable.
There are also those who think impeachment is worth it for the electoral boost it will give Democrats in the 2020 elections. I do see some merit in this. But I think the timing is wrong. If the House moves quickly and turns it over to the Senate, Trump will be able to ride his exoneration to victory in 2020. And if the House drags its feet so that the proceedings last through the elections, there’s a very good chance that people will be sick and tired of the investigation by then and it will make it harder to energize voters. In a lot of ways, this strategy comes down to how well the press can keep voters aware and interested in the story. And I don’t trust the press to do their job well enough to do that.
Finally, my most important issue in the impeachment debate is that there are just so many ways it can go wrong and only one way it can go right. The only way it goes right is if it moves quickly and actually removes Trump from office. (Of course, that leaves us with President Pence, which is horrifying. Maybe if it goes perfectly, Pence and Trump can both be removed from office, and we’d get President Pelosi. I just don’t see any scenario where that happens, though.) The worst case scenario is that Trump is legally exonerated and easily wins reelection. Likely it will be something in between. I just don’t have any faith that it will be good.