In the first part of this piece, published here several days ago, I argued that the brilliant Harvard legal scholar, Laurence Tribe, has made a surprisingly weak argument that the Democrats should not impeach Trump —if they Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming elections.
What concerns Tribe is that Trump would survive a Senate trial, because enough Republican senators would vote to acquit, and that such an acquittal would just leave President Trump in a stronger position. My reasons for rejecting that concern were articulated in that first installment.
Now, in this installment, I will put forward my reasons for believing that even if a Senate trial ended in acquittal, and thus failed to remove Trump from office, impeaching this President and conducting that trial would nonetheless serve the nation in important ways.
Protect and Defend
That Senate trial would be important, first of all, because the alternative – no impeachment – would in itself do serious damage to the American constitutional order. It is one thing to refrain — as the Republicans should have done in the 1990s — from impeaching a President for matters that have nothing to do with a President’s performance of his vital office—. But Trump’s case is an altogether different matter.
From all the massive – albeit still incomplete – information already available, Trump’s crimes and abuses of power go well beyond anything ever seen before in American history. It does not seem an exaggeration to say of Trump’s likely-to-certain impeachable offenses that if Trump ought not to be impeached, no President will ever deserve impeachment.
One of the categories of Trump’s blatant abuses of power is surely his assault on “the rule of law.” A failure to impeach a President so clearly lawless would in itself be a serious blow to the rule of law. That by itself ought to be sufficient to warrant taking the process as far as it can go, and if that is only as far as impeachment, without conviction, so be it.
And let the opprobrium for a failure to convict – if that should occur – fall on those who put Party ahead of nation.
Which calls attention to the wider political war — against a force of brokenness, of which this atrocious President is but a part.
Perceiving the Larger Battle
The central political task of our times is to take power from the force of brokenness that has arisen on the political right and has done so much damage to the nation in recent years.
As important as it is to deal with Trump’s Presidency, we ought not forget that Trump is also a symptom of the destructive force that’s taken over the Republican Party — and its maddened base. It was the Republican Party that maddened that base, the base that elevated Trump to the presidency, and the Republicans in Congress who have chosen to be his accomplices.
The task therefore is not just to disable Trump from doing more damage to the nation, but also to take power from this Republican Party if they continue to serve brokenness– as, for example, continuing to protect the President instead of the Constitution they’ve taken an oath to defend.
And as power, in America, still ultimately derives from public opinion, the central battlefield in our ongoing political war is a fight for the hearts and minds of the people.
Here’s where an impeachment trial in the Senate can play an essential role.
Helping the American People to See the Truth
Contrary to Tribe’s argument, the value of impeaching Trump does not depend upon successfully removing him from office. It can also be valuable if it succeeds in getting more and more Americans to perceive clearly the reality of what has been happening.
But there has been a problem: Compared to previous presidential scandals, Trump’s is not only the worst but also the most elaborate, many-dimensional, and complex. Paradoxically, Trump may gain an advantage by virtue of the very vastness and complexity of the picture.
As the news drips in on a daily basis, the vast and complex tapestry of Trumpian crimes and corruptions is not easily apprehended by the average citizen.
It is a challenge, then, to get the public to understand Trump’s misdeeds as well as they understood the picture of Clinton and Lewinsky and the blue dress. Or as they understood Iran-Contra. Or even Watergate.
How to do that? The Mueller report will doubtless be impressive — and elaborate. The media will doubtless tell the American public about it. But something more will likely be needed.
And a Senate impeachment trial may be the best available way to fulfill that need.
Imagine a month-long, nationally televised, systematic, presentation to the American people — conducted by fine legal experts trained in the arts of persuading juries– showing the many ways that Donald Trump has abused his office, committed crimes, acted corruptly, betrayed the nation, shown himself unfit for the Presidency, etc.
Such a presentation might prove a game-changer.
Maybe the Republicans would vote to acquit, as most now anticipate.
In the wake of a full and public account of a whole array of reasons for rejecting and removing this President, perhaps the political calculations of Republican opportunists will have changed. Perhaps the costs of voting to acquit will seem to them greater than the costs of abandoning Trump.
And if they do acquit nonetheless, even though a big American majority has understood the picture of criminality and corruption that has been presented, imagine the political consequences of that.
With the disgrace thick around Trump, he would not be strengthened. And with that disgrace clinging also to his accomplices, the weight of public opinion would like use the next election to push that morally corrupt Republican Party further out of power.
And in the context of the wider political war, that is something America desperately needs.
So– if the House can be won, and if the Mueller report is as damning as seems highly likely, begin the impeachment process and let the necessary education of the public begin.
The Die-Hard Trump Supporters
But what of those Americans who will not let themselves be educated by such a trial, who will stand by Trump even as the bodies on “Fifth Avenue” are described on television?
Fear of their rejection of the case against Trump is another reason that Tribe counsels against impeachment.
My reasons for rejecting that argument as well will be the topic of the next — and last — entry in this series on “Laurence Tribe’s Surprisingly Lame Arguments Against Impeachment.”