Impeachment and Elections Are the Dual Paths Toward Saving Our Democracy
We are now on a path to impeachment. Today’s smoking gun of the transcript of Donald Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President is a blatant evidence of his rampant lawlessness and disregard for every weave in the fabric of constitutional government and democratic norms. There is no choice but to seek his removal from office. We are in for a bumpy year ahead, and the stakes could not be higher.
For months, like many committed progressives, I had mixed feelings about impeachment. I had no question that it was clearly justified, from the myriad crimes against democracy documented in the Mueller report to Trump’s voluminous self-dealing and petty corruption. But I worried, as apparently Speaker Pelosi did, that Trump’s almost certain acquittal by the Republican Senate – a body that like him, places its own power over every other value, from the rule of law to the security of the nation – would be weaponized by Trump and his fervid base as vindication.
I’m not sure that calculus was ever right, but in the wake of the disclosures that Trump tried to use U.S. aid to extort Ukraine into a sham investigation of his political opponent, it certainly isn’t now.
I’m still not sure of the political consequences of the march toward impeachment. None of us can be. You can be certain that Trump, who loves nothing more than a fight, and who thrives on chaos, will do what he can to twist the truth and further inflame our political discourse. Last week’s testimony by Corey Lewandowski was a preview of the scorched-earth tactics that lie ahead. But I’ve come to feel, as many have in the last few days, that the political consequences of impeachment are secondary. What is important is the moral and legal stakes. If the thick dossier of crimes against democracy that Donald Trump has already committed escapes any effort at accountability, then we have entered a post-Constitutional zone, and no President can ever be held accountable.
The necessity of impeachment – of building a record, charging, and adjudicating, for the verdict of history and for the soul of our political system – does not mean, of course, that politics stops. The case for Trump’s removal from office on myriad other grounds – the wretchedness of his character, the cruelty of his policies, the numbing institutionalization of lying, the gross incompetence of leadership and management – is manifest, and will continue to inform the Presidential election that will now run parallel with the impeachment process. Trump’s unfitness on every front does not relieve his opposition from a positive vision for a post-Trump America, and on that score, the deep debates among the candidates about economic justice, health care, the climate crisis, immigration and other core issues is extremely encouraging. Every election is about the future, but this one must also carry a strong message of repudiation.
The last time the country dealt with impeachment was when the Republicans in Congress tried to remove President Clinton over his bad personal conduct, a travesty of this grave constitutional tool if ever there was one. Their partisan perversion of the process then has much in common with their perversion of it now, but their egregious partisanship leaves the rest of us with an obligation to force a reckoning with the abuses that are plainly endemic to Trump’s performance of the Presidency.
It’s important to point out that the organizational and political infrastructure supported by the Democracy Alliance is what brought us to this place: the many progressive groups whose work gave us a Democratic House and made possible the restoration of vital checks and balances, and whose legal and Freedom-of-Information Act work meticulously documented the blatant corruption of this administration. We salute the Members of Congress who are putting country over party, from the bold women of color Representatives who were the first to call for impeachment, to those newly-elected from Trump-leaning districts who took principled stands based on their own careers in foreign policy and national security.
In the DA, we will keep our eye on the ball of the state elections of 2019 in Virginia and elsewhere, and on the path to victory in 2020. In our communications, briefings and conferences we will track the drive toward impeachment particularly about what key organizations in the DA community are doing in this critical moment.
It occurred to me while writing this that my first political act, as a twenty-year old student, was to work for the impeachment of President Nixon. It gives no joy to be back in that place, with an even more lawless and reckless President. But it is where we are and must be. Let’s work together to hold Trump accountable while building the mandate we need for a more just, fair and safe country and world.