The national tragedy of impeachment

posted by Jeff | Friday, December 20, 2019, 12:15 PM | comments: 0

Early in 1999, as we just started to endure Y2K hysteria, a trial started in the United States Senate to put President Bill Clinton on trial for the impeachment articles passed by the House at the very end of the previous year. The evidence was pretty clear: Clinton had an affair with a young intern, lied about it in a deposition for a civil sexual harassment suit, and then obstructed justice by trying to influence people involved to lie.

Much of the debate was about whether or not these crimes were "bad enough" to justify removing a sitting president, and in the end, the senate chose not to. It wasn't quite a straight party vote. I remember thinking at the time that this was all about his personal life, not the business of the country, and that the only guy to get a balanced budget passed in my lifetime should probably get a pass. Since that time, I've come to realize that what he did perhaps didn't merit removal from office, but he should have disappeared and never been heard from again when he left the White House. He absolutely abused his powerful position to get laid with a woman half his age. It's immoral and terrible in every way.

Before Donald Trump was elected, we already knew he was immoral. He bragged about how he could move on women "like a bitch," disparaged veterans and gold star families, mocked the disabled, said racist things... nothing outright illegal, but certainly immoral. Only 27% of eligible voters voted for him anyway, and only slightly more for Hillary Clinton, though we know how the electoral college landed. The disappointment of the election wasn't about Donald Trump, it was about the electorate that was indifferent enough to let him be elected. The "but Hillary" narrative made it as if there was some real moral equivalence there.

There has never been a point in which Trump acquired a better-than-half approval rating, but there wasn't any obvious wrongdoing that would require his removal. Where he ran afoul of the Constitution, the courts blocked his actions (I believe he's lost 70 times already). Speaker Pelosi wouldn't entertain impeachment, even after the 2018 flip of the House to Democratic control. But then this whole Ukraine thing landed, where he asked a foreign government to investigate a political rival, then blocked Congress from investigating it by preventing witnesses from testifying. The Constitution's system of checks and balances requires Congress to act, and here we are. The president has been impeached, for only the third time in American history.

What makes this a tragedy is that the tribalism that Trump so successfully stokes will protect him in the end. No one should be surprised about what he did (and to be clear, he did what he was accused of... the facts are unambiguous). Senators, charged with being jurors in the forthcoming trial, haven't heard arguments yet, but have already committed to verdicts. Facts be damned, and they don't even care to see that Christian and Republican constituencies are starting to come around. The disappointment isn't in Trump, it's in those that defend him. For them, they put party over country. I believe that most people who oppose him, myself included, do so not because of his party affiliation, but his moral character.

If you truly stand for human integrity, you can't defend this scope of immorality. Just last night, he disparaged another dead veteran and congressman, whose life was committed to public service. It just doesn't seem like you can talk your way into supporting an autocratic draft dodger, but people do it every day, and it's frustrating and sad.

The Senate will acquit the president, sending the message that he can do whatever it takes to accept foreign influence to give him an advantage. You know, without question, if Obama asked a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, Trump advocates would accept nothing less than impeachment, but here we are. Ultimately, we'll have to hope that whomever gets the Democratic nomination in the spring inspires enough voters to show up in November. Bush and Obama were, at best, mediocre to poor presidents, but they maintained the dignity of the office. It's the least we can hope for next year.

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