Present calls for the impeachment of President Trump seem ill-considered. Looked at in a political light, however, such a move might make great sense.
Let us begin with the reality that impeachment is primarily a political undertaking, as I argued publicly in 2019 and previously. In that light, the standard is not a supposed legal or criminal violation. It is rather the perception on the part of the required number of our political representatives of a grave public misfeasance. That could well encompass a failure adequately to provide for public security. Such a judgment could quite reasonably be urged in the present moment.
The case for impeachment, however, and comprehensively appraised, would require a far more substantial justification, in light of the imminent departure of the president from office. Such a justification is available to us, if we appropriately evaluate the present political circumstances of the United States.
We have overleapt bounds in a dramatic manner, without access to a bridge of return. Having demonstrated that it is politically acceptable to refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of an election, we can not now squeeze that genie back into the bottle. It is accordingly more important than anything else to ponder what we may do hereafter, in light of the impossibility of simply doing what we have done heretofore.
Impeachment presents a logical—and perhaps necessary—path forward, circuitous though it may be. The most salient element of impeachment is the permanent proscription from holding any office of profit or trust under the existing government of the United States. To some, that would offer a promise of apparent safety against the danger of populist attachment to dangerous personalities.
The true value that lies in the innovation of seemingly untimely impeachment, however, is that it will confirm once for all what always has been true but never recognized or at least acknowledged: namely, impeachment does not depend on incumbency. That is, anyone who has ever held office may be constitutionally impeached. Thus, the turning in the calendar in 12 days is no barrier to an impeachment procedure. President Trump may be impeached even after he leaves office. And so, too, may anyone who has ever held office be impeached. Richard Nixon’s resignation did not save him from impeachment constitutionally speaking, but only politically speaking. Accordingly, Congress could launch an impeachment process now, without suffering undue pressure from the president’s imminent departure. For they can continue the process even after he leaves office.
What, then, is the special advantage to be derived from taking this step? Plainly, it will serve to infuse with life the ancient practice of proscription in the present democracy of the United States. Just as Themistocles and others could be proscribed at Athens, it would result that President Trump and anyone else depending only on the blowing of the political winds could be proscribed in the United States.
In that event, our hypertrophic, metastasized partisanship will acquire the outlet it now needs in order to chart the country’s future path. Only the blowing of the political winds would determine from year to year who could emerge in positions of authority and trust. Thus we can return the resolution of political differences to political, and not criminal proceedings. The revolutions in character that would result would assure that none can assume an impunity to the verdicts of politics. What has in recent times been attempted through the criminalization of political differences will thereafter be openly and legitimately conducted on the grounds of raw politics.
If impeachment now can present this opportunity to this particular society, it may indeed serve to open the only remaining path to national salvation (albeit carrying the incalculable risk of national suicide). But if it works, Donald Trump will have succeeded in making politics great again.