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To impeach Mr. Trump: Context, questions, projections

In the unlikely event that the president is removed from office, will his removal aid measurably in restoring our political conversation to any level of renewed civility?

(Darren Halstead/Unsplash.com)

I may have to retract my July 2018 CWR piece, in which I pretty much said that talk of a “Cold Civil War” last summer was a hyped-up liberalism and lax news reporting.

That was before the House of Representatives opened an official inquiry on impeaching the president of the United States. If it hasn’t gone hot, the heat from the cold civil war has crept up a notch or two.

Self-disclosure: I did vote for Donald Trump. I did that only by pondering a comparative vote for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. There were, in my judgment, many, many things to dislike about both. My vote came down to which of those things I disliked least. The thing I liked least about Mrs. Clinton was her extremism on abortion. What I liked least about Mr. Trump was his extremism on immigration. There were plenty of things equally disagreeable in the mid-ranges as well, but those two were crucial.

What I expected

For the most part Mr. Trump has proven to be what I expected. He is absolutely unfiltered and volatile and crude in his off-the-cuff way. Given his entrepreneurial instincts, it’s not a bad way of keeping his opponents off-balance. That’s business. But in politics and civic life, it’s not received so well.

Still, the same instincts mean he is always looking for a deal: on trade, on immigration, on international relations, in domestic economics. He did get our NATO allies to chip in more of their promised 2 percent GDP toward NATO expenses, but it did require his signature huffing-and-puffing threatening the alliance to get it. That’s his way.

He is also willing to tone things down when necessary, no matter his talk. He is the only president I have heard to muse aloud about “proportionality” in the justifiable war doctrine, which finally called for restraint in response to the Iranian take-down of a US drone. One unmanned drone, proportionately, was not worth an estimated 150 dead Iranians.

Impeachment

That odd constitutional phrase—high crimes and misdemeanors—to describe the grounds to impeach and remove public officials dates back to at least 1386. That was when the first Earl of Suffolk and Lord Chancellor of England under Richard II, one Michael de la Pole, was convicted in Parliament upon charges of embezzlement and negligence.

This was one of the opening shots in the developing dispute between Parliament and the king which saw several of Richard’s officials convicted of treason, stripped of office, and even hanged (assuming they hadn’t fled to France beforehand, as Pole eventually did).

That is the first thing to think about impeachment. Foremost it is a political action, not a judicial action. The subject of impeachment has made himself or herself politically insufferable and largely for, well, political reasons.

“High crimes and misdemeanors” noted in the Constitution—also containing “bribery and treason” as an afterthought—is as vaguely defined today as in 1386. At best it comes out as “what we don’t like,” whatever the real evidence may be.

President Clinton was objectively guilty of perjury and obstruction, revealed in civil depositions (he resigned from the Arkansas bar association before his license was suspended, and he paid a $90,000 contempt of court citation imposed by a federal judge). Yet his misdeeds were not politically objectionable, not enough to merit removal from office.

Never, not once, did a majority of Americans see any compelling reason to remove Mr. Clinton from office. The Democratic Senate came nowhere near a 2/3 vote to remove the president. The House Republicans lost five seats in the 1998 elections—predictions had been for a gain of six to 30 seats—largely for their prosecution of a likable president. Mr. Clinton’s favorable poll numbers even increased as the Senate trial developed. He left office with favorable ratings nearly matching those of Dwight Eisenhower.

The Democrats in this latest instance of Trump v. Everybody are in the same fix, except Mr. Trump really isn’t all that likable and his favorable polling has rarely touched 45 percent.

Projections

The House Democrats may vote for impeachment, but the Republican Senate will never convict. If anyone thinks a bipartisan coalition can come together to remove Mr. Trump from his presidency, well, they’ve been dipping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate vats.

Former Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake stated that 35 Republican senators, if permitted secret ballots, would vote to remove Trump from office. He was responding to an MSNBC Republican strategist saying that 30 senators would vote for impeachment; Mr. Flake broadened the number. I find both assertions doubtful. I have to conclude Mr. Flake was talking for a headline, and he duly received many.

Do the math. Assuming all Democrat senators will vote for impeachment without fear of offending those home constituencies that voted for Trump, conviction would still require 20 Republicans joining the Democrats (and the lone Independent) for the necessary two-thirds conviction. And as Mr. Flake doubtless knows, the Senate doesn’t do secret ballots.

Combined polling with both parties pretty much says leave Trump alone, though as you would expect, it leans more Republican than Democrat. Yet it includes both. This was the case with Clinton. It was also the case with President Nixon.

That means roughly 42-47 percent will view impeachment of Mr. Trump as improper and merely political. That range, incidentally, matches polling following Nixon’s resignation, when he was threatened with impeachment for reasons what were far clearer than those before us now.

Even up to the eve of his resignation, 42 percent did not think  Mr. Nixon should be removed from office. That meant 58 percent did, but the division is instructive. Americans do not like impeachment, and a significant minority will view it dimly.

More than one historian traces the hostile divisions of today back to the efforts to remove the Nixon presidency.

There of course are other domestic divisions among Americans besides Mr. Trump’s abrasive style. But we should ask who a Trump presidency threatens most. I have to note, and not exactly as an aside, that Trump has acted aggressively on pro-life questions with his court appointments as well in his most recent declaration to the UN that abortion is not an international human right. He may be painted as a buffoon, and might in fact be one, but there is little doubt he really frightens the pro-choice lobby.

But suppose he is made to go?

He will be the first. Only two presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson (Abraham Lincoln’s successor) and Bill Clinton. Neither was convicted. Mr. Nixon resigned from office before impeachment articles were voted. It is very difficult to convict a president. That historical fact would suggest caution.

Though Andrew Johnson is historically regarded as one of the three worst presidents ever (and most of his contemporaries certainly thought so even before history made its judgment), one senator who voted for his acquittal put it:

… no future president will be safe who happens to differ with a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate on any measure deemed by them important. Blinded by partisan zeal, they will not scruple to remove out of the way any obstacle to the accomplishment of their purposes. And what then becomes of the checks and balances of the Constitution?

If Mr. Trump is in fact impeached a significant number of Americans inevitably will see it as a piece with all those “Resist” t-shirts from Inauguration Day, as just part of what they regard as the seamless effort to delegitimize his presidency. A flat 40 percent or more will see impeachment as illegitimate and his removal—as remote as that seems—as a bloodless coup d’état.

The broader questions

Let us ask:

  1. How will his removal aid in strengthening the already weakened bipartisanship in Congress?
  2. Will his removal from office aid measurably in restoring our political conversation to any level of renewed civility (good-natured humor can wait)?
  3. Will it help at all in seeking necessary political compromise when the opportunity does present itself?

 

(Note: The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of other CWR contributors or of Ignatius Press. The essay originally stated that the “Democratic Senate came nowhere near a 3/4 vote to remove” Mr. Clinton from the presidency; that has been corrected to “a 2/3 vote”.)


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About Russell E. Saltzman 13 Articles
Before entering seminary and becoming a Lutheran pastor (before becoming Roman Catholic), Russell E. Saltzman was a newspaper reporter, press secretary to a member of Congress, and deputy secretary of state of Kansas.

22 Comments

    • Politics here?….The is a scorched earth war between liberal and conservative, of which Trump only a symptom of how desperate the conservatives in seeking a strong leader who delivers, no matter what a buffoon he might be.

      The liberal side is seeking and gaining the ability to quash all dissent from their agenda, using courts, education systems, media, etc to utterly crush and silence every objection, to include religious and conscientious objection.

      This author imagining some return to civil discourse by the ouster of a validly elected president whom the liberals have unstintingly ceased to remove from office by every illicit means possible, is simply a field trip to la-la-land for academics and bloggers…there will be a happy cat dance and war dance on his presidency’s grave, and then will be an all-out assault on conservative values, in a culture where NOTHING is conserved.

      Return to civil discourse when the other side lacks coherant reasoning? Impossible.

      • Since we are here on reading CWR may I offer a plug for that brilliant featured essay by Dr. Leroy Huizenga: “What we’re up against: Confronting our Gnostic empire of desire.” I’ve shared that essay with so many friends. He really elucidates how we ( our whole Western Society) has gotten to be where and how we are. It’s not a focus on them vs us but us as a whole. Relates well to this article and so many more.

        • I know Dr. H and I agree. He was my editor for a short while, a stern one but nice enough to print my stuff anyway.

      • To the contrary, I would argue for the sake of the nation every patriot should pray for civil discourse and seek the peace of the nation and the well-being of one’s opponents. That starts with you.

  1. All the current political theatre in Washington is driven by fears of a future conservative, prolife Supreme Court. Period.
    Everything else is a distraction.

    • I agree.
      They cannot defeat him so they must remove him. And they must do so before the death of Justice Ginsburg.
      Of the dozen or so Democrat Party candidates, none stands out. Médiocraties all. Unless he self-destructs, Trump will be reelected.
      The DNC has no interest whatsoever in civil discourse. Marxism never does.

  2. It seems to me that any discussion of contemporary politics which fails to address the cultural and spiritual problems raised by globalization will fail to present the whole picture.

    • Thank you. Salt that goes flat…lukewarm evangelism … let’s just let ‘worldliness ‘ wash over US … heaven forbid we should be loud and clear in pointing out the cliff we are moving toward.

  3. Let us ask 3 questions?
    1.What has bipartisanship with a socialist/democrat ever made better in America?
    answer:Nothing
    2. Will President Trumps removal restore civility?
    answer: No The socialist/democrat will assault VP Pence next.Civility ONLY applies to Republicans.
    3.Will his removal aid in compromise,when the opportunity presents itself ?
    answer: No The socialist/democrat idea of compromise.Is we are destroyed,and the truth is returned to darkness.Mr Saltzman’s ideology and thinking is seriously flawed and a real danger to America.

    • I voted for Mr. Trump & expect to vote for him again, but as far as the GOP uniquely possessing civility…have you listened to the language Pres. Trumps uses to express himself? Seriously.

    • I do not recall using the term “socialist democrat” in the article. You use the term as a strawman only so you can set it afire and “prove” your point – which isn’t aim any where near I was pointing. So, you win the argument with yourself. But it wasn’t the one I raised.

  4. Politics here?….There is a scorched earth war between liberal and conservative, of which Trump only a symptom of how desperate the conservatives in seeking a strong leader who delivers, no matter what a buffoon he might be.

    The liberal side is seeking and gaining the ability to quash all dissent from their agenda, using courts, education systems, media, etc to utterly crush and silence every objection, to include religious and conscientious objection.

    This author imagining some return to civil discourse by the ouster of a validly elected president whom the liberals have unstintingly ceased to remove from office by every illicit means possible, is simply a field trip to la-la-land for academics and bloggers…there will be a happy cat dance and war dance on his presidency’s grave, and then will be an all-out assault on conservative values, in a culture where NOTHING is conserved.

    Return to civil discourse when the other side lacks coherant reasoning? Impossible.

  5. “That was before the House of Representatives opened an official inquiry on impeaching the president of the United States.”
    No, Mr Saltzman, no ‘official inquiry on impeachment’ has been opened. That would require a vote of the entire House of Congress. All that has happened is Nancy Pelosi use of double talk to confuse and obfuscate the facts for political gain. She is using her position as Speaker of the House to work outside the law and our Constitution to please BlueDems who have been calling for impeachment since before the President was ever inaugurated. The Party of hate and division is officially out of control and outside the law.

    • I am aware no “fomal” inquiry has been adopted. None is necessary, not under House rules; the rules being whatever the majority says they are.

  6. This author seems remarkably confident that he can measure the pulse of the American electorate on the basis of political polling. Let me remind him: Hillary Clinton had between an 83% and 91% chance of being elected president in 2016 according to all major polls. Yes, Mr. Trump is “unlikeable” … until you put him up against any current opponent. Collaborating with an impeachment coup would be suicide for the Republican Party. Whether they like Mr. Trump’s personality or not, most Republican office-holders are intelligent enough to realize this.

  7. Trump will get away with most anything.Impeachment is not a viable option since our Republican Senate will come out from under their taxpayer funded desks to remain “loyal” to their King! My life long party is no longer the Republican party, it’s the Trump party.

    Trump’s “private lawyers”, who run the Oval Office, coined Trumps disdain for the press using “FAKE NEWS” as a bumbling diatribe ignoring the First Amendment right of freedom of speech. With the exception of two, former presidents, all would never violate the constitution and defile the office! Many of Trump’s urgent love fest with murderous dictators has further darkened and dangerously threatens our national security. His “Russians only” meeting in the oval Office with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak was a prime example of his “admiration for dictators” as all his attempts have failed.

    Having said all that being only the tip of the iceberg, it truly amazes me that the Catholic Church cozies and coddles Trump when he moral fiber is non-existent. He is an incessant liar of immoral proportion. Trump lied when he said Mexico “will pay for the wall and that he would release his taxes 100 percent” He truly can be identified with Anderson’s “The Emperor Wears No Clothes”.

    God save our democracy!

  8. “the Catholic Church cozies and coddles Trump when he moral fiber is non-existent.”

    Ignoring all the rest of your post: Oh? He has supported religious freedom for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others, he has fought against abortion and spoken out about the sanctity of life. Those two things alone prove your statement wrong.

  9. And it “truly amazes me” that some people believe that our Pope”s RCC is at all cozy with Pres. Trump. Along the line of very disturbing amazement though, I share this. In a casual conversation with a fellow volunteer recently, I asked her, an elderly little, smart looking lady church going MSP, what was her favorite TV program. When she said, it was CNN which she watches exclusively, I became so very amazed, amazed, amazed. Have not engaged with her so intimately in quite a While.

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