The Corner

Politics & Policy

Impeachment Is Not a Mulligan

A quick point on the allegedly “savagely personal” attack on Jen Rubin, which consisted mostly of quoting her views on the Paris Climate Accords, moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the Iran Deal, tax cuts, welfare, energy, and gun control and noticing that as soon as Trump signed on to Rubin’s policy preferences, she suddenly became a critic of those same positions.

Tom Nichols writes, “for some of us, it’s not that we changed our position, it’s that we don’t want this administration trying to do important and complicated things it doesn’t understand.”

Assuming one concurs with Nichols’ assessment that the administration as a whole does not understand the important and complicated tasks it undertakes… what, is all U.S. policy supposed to stand still for four years? All American policies and decision-making should be preserved in amber as they were on January 19, 2017, until the next president takes office?

That’s an impossibility, so stop wasting time imagining a world where Trump never does anything as president. Policy will change in the Trump years, so you might as well push for the policies to be changed in your preferred direction.

Imagine that Americans chose to elect a president who you don’t like, who you think is spectacularly ignorant of policy details, who crudely and obnoxiously shoots his mouth off, who’s erratic and temperamental, not particularly principled, and is an easily-flattered narcissist. (For some of you, this is not such a hypothetical scenario.)

What do you want to do about it?

For quite a few Trump critics, the answer is “impeachment,” and that was their answer from literally the moment Trump was elected.

Stuck with a president that they didn’t vote for and cannot stand, a vocal chunk of Trump’s critics insist he must be removed from office – until they debate whether Pence would be worse, revealing that the core of their objection is less that Trump is a uniquely unqualified and bad Republican than the fact that he’s a Republican.

Yes, I get that a lot of Americans really, really hate Trump. A lot of Americans really, really hated Obama, and a lot of Americans really, really hated George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and… you get the idea.

I might be more sympathetic to the arguments that Trump is a danger to our system of government if I hadn’t lived through “Bushitler,” “Chimpy McHalliburton,” “Bush doesn’t care about black people,” the awards for films depicting Bush’s assassination, Howard Dean speculating that the Saudis warned Bush about 9/11 and the president letting it happen, MoveOn.org running ads comparing Bush to Hitler, Keith Ellison comparing the 9/11 attack to the Reichstag fire…  Maybe I’d be less skeptical about the comparisons of Trump to Nazi leaders or an aspiring dictator if every Republican president in my lifetime hadn’t been compared to Nazi leaders or an aspiring dictator.

Count me as among those who have regular beefs with the president, but who thinks that impeachment is meant to be reserved for the Constitution’s reference to “conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Being a jerk who can’t resist lashing out on Twitter is not enough to remove a president.

If Mueller comes back with smoking-gun evidence of collusion with Russia or some other serious crimes (tax evasion, sexual assault) then this is a different discussion. But the fact that so many Trump critics are absolutely convinced that Mueller is going to come down the chimney like Santa Claus with a sack full of airtight articles of impeachment does not reassure me. This is “wish-casting” – insisting something will be true because one wants it to be true.

Impeachment is not a mulligan or do-over. If the American people make a lousy but non-criminal choice for president, they have to live with the consequences. If you save people from the consequences of their own bad decisions, they will never learn from them.

But to a lot of Trump critics, he is not merely a bad president but an illegitimate president. But they reach this conclusion by stretching illegitimate as extensively as those who insisted George W. Bush was “selected, not elected” and “not my president.” At the heart of the Nichols contention is the idea that Trump is so ignorant, so oblivious, and so self-absorbed that he isn’t really president, and isn’t entitled to the powers of the presidency. This is a dangerous path to go down, to assert that a president’s legitimacy stems from what others think of him, instead of election results and the U.S. Constitution.

The great irony is that I and a lot of conservatives would probably be much happier with a President Mike Pence. But we don’t un-do the results of a presidential election just because it surprised and upset a significant chunk of the electorate.

UPDATE: Tom Nichols has been responding on Twitter, and notes “I have repeated[ly] said that talk of the 25th amendment is crazy, that “not my president” is wrong, and that Trump is the legit winner of 2016 and the CinC. Repeatedly.” I think declaring “we don’t want this administration trying to do important and complicated things” is close to declaring that they don’t have legitimate power or authority to do so, but it’s possible I’m reading a meaning into his words that isn’t there. In the interest of fairness, I note and point to Nichols’ defense.

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