With Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, inevitably the question of impeaching Donald Trump has come up. That’s the easy part. They may need to gather the evidence, as they are doing, but any fool can identify numerous grounds on which to impeach him, starting with the apparent obstruction of justice involved in firing James Comey, which he did to stop the investigation into his buddy, Michael Flynn, by his own admission.
The hard part is that impeachment is just the first step. The second step is a trial in the Senate, where removal requires a two thirds majority vote. We have yet to remove a president through this process. In 1868, Andrew Johnson came within one vote of removal. In February 1999, Bill Clinton escaped removal by a much larger margin. Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 to avoid a trial in the Senate.
At the moment, the Republicans — the same Party who refused even to consider impeaching Trump despite having most of the same reasons to do so we have now, and despite more than one Democratic articles of impeachment being introduced in the House — control the Senate. The odds of that body voting by two thirds to remove Trump are nil. Given Mitch McConnell’s track record, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he might refuse to hold the trial. The Constitution provides that “the Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments” (Article I, Section 3), which implies that the body has the power to decide to hold the trial or not.
We typically use the word, “impeach” imprecisely, which is usually not a problem. Most people, when they say, “impeach” really mean “remove from office via impeachment,” since it is a two part process as the Constitution defines it. But at the moment, the second part is the important part of the process because that is the part that will likely prevent the process from having the effect of removing Trump from office. Nixon resigned because the odds were very good that the Senate would vote to remove him from office. That is not the case with Trump. Even if it were, Trump has all of Nixon’s bad qualities and none of his good ones. It seems unlikely that Trump would show the political intelligence and maturity that Nixon showed by resigning.
Even so, the House should still impeach Trump. Nixon said in resigning that the nation “needs a full time president,” which we don’t have with the golf playing Trump in office already, but impeachment would further reduce Trump’s limited efficacy, which would be a good thing. Clinton came through his impeachment with a historically high approval rating. Trump’s is historically low. Trump’s base will never abandon him. Nixon’s base never abandoned him. But even impeachment without removal will make it harder for Republicans to support him as avidly as they have done to this point, especially since voting out the articles in the House will necessarily involve extensive public discussion of the reasons to impeach him, which will wear down any wavering supporters.
Trump lost the popular vote in 2016. In 2018, voters resoundingly rejected his Party in all but its strongest bastions. For the House, the only component of the federal government that operates on the principle of majority rule, to vote to impeach him would be further evidence for the illegitimacy of his presidency.
Trump understands nothing about the government of the United States or how it is supposed to work, so he will not see or understand his own illegitimacy, but others will. The erosion will continue. Impeaching him will accelerate it.
Several observers have noted that impeaching the president is traumatic. Having Dolt 45 in office is traumatic. The trauma is far greater for children whom his administration has separated from their parents, held in custody, and left subject to sexual abuse than it is for any member of the press or the political class. Impeaching Trump will not solve that problem, even if we could remove him, but it would be a step in the right direction. There is no non traumatic way out of this dilemma. Surgery is traumatic, but removing a tumor is better than leaving it in the patient.
Impeach the motherfucker.