By Paolo von Schirach –
WASHINGTON – The Democrats who hold the majority in the US House of Representatives did their best to present their vote leading to the start of an impeachment process, potentially leading to the removal of President Donald Trump from office, as a solemn and sad moment dictated by the gravity of the charges and the urgency of the constitutional crisis created by a criminal president.
With solemn voices accompanied by serious demeanor they told the nation that while impeaching Trump is the last thing they wanted to do, they simply “had to”. The gravity of the situation left them no choice. They recognize the profound implications of this move. They are fully aware that the US Constitution contemplates impeachment as an extreme remedy for extreme circumstances in which a president must be removed from power, without waiting for the end of his four years mandate. But they had no choice.
Guardians of the Constitution
As they told America, in their constitutional role as guardians of our institutions, the House Democrats could not ignore a president who has deliberately and consciously broken his Oath of Office. On this Ukrainian matter, he clearly abused his power as president, this way acting in open disregard of the Constitution. And so the Democrats in the House, conscious of their solemn constitutional obligations as public servants, simply had to act.
Furthermore, they had to act swiftly; because the evidence shows that this president is busy engaging in unconstitutional conduct on a daily basis. He is such a menace that he needs to be stopped, now, lest he destroys the entire fabric of our cherished democratic institutions.
Well, this narrative presented by the House Democrats is outlandishly exaggerated. By inventing this notion of Trump as a monstrous creature living in the White House, intent on shredding our American Constitution, the House Democrats have turned this impeachment process into a farce. Many Americans (may be most) have seen through this manufactured drama and concluded that this impeachment process is nothing but “politics”, and not a serious constitutional crisis, and so they have tuned out.
Real charges against Trump
Let me be clear. This is not an invented story. Ample evidence, now corroborated by multiple witnesses who have first knowledge of the “Ukraine military and economic aid matter” conclusively proves that President Trump tried to twist the arm of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, (by threatening to withhold aid for Ukraine already voted by Congress), so that Zelensky would commit to dig up dirt on Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, this way helping Trump’s to get re-elected.
All this is beyond dispute. And it is bad. Really bad. It is most inappropriate for any US President to mix the foreign policy of the United States with personal electoral politics. President Trump acted most inappropriately; and in so doing he tarnished his office.
So, something bad happened and the president did it. However –and this is the critical question– is this an “impeachable offense“? The country is deeply divided on this. Most Democrats hate Trump as a matter of course, and so they would like to see him gone, whatever it takes. Most Republicans believe he is OK. The independents are divided.
That said, notwithstanding the anti-Trump media hype, most Americans who live outside of the Washington, DC bubble do not care much about the complex constitutional arguments dished out by legal experts appearing non stop on cable TV.
The charge of “abuse of power” against this president for most people is an abstraction that few are willing to dig into in order to determine whether or not this particular instance of abuse rises to the level of an impeachable offense that warrants removing a president from office, especially when president Trump can be removed from office via regular elections scheduled to take place this coming November. “You want to get rid of Trump? Well, vote for the other candidate come November”.
For sure, most Americans would agree that they do not want “a criminal” in the White House. However, the “crime” the president is accused of has to be something most people can relate to. There is no clear majority that would agree that Trump’s conduct regarding the whole Ukraine messed up affair clearly constitutes “criminal behavior”. Bad behavior, most probably; but not something that rises to the level of an impeachable offense.
Inflated case against Trump
In other words, it is not that the House Democrats “invented” a case against Trump. Far from it. There is plenty of evidence that there is a case. Their political miscalculation has been to inflate the dimensions of the “Ukraine story” up to ridiculous proportions.
Yes, President Trump behaves in an erratic, often bizarre fashion. He says plenty of outlandish things. And in this Ukraine case he tried to use the considerable power of his office to obtain from another head of state something that would probably benefit him politically by threatening to withhold a large package of economic and military aid duly approved by Congress that the Executive Branch was obliged by law to deliver to Ukraine.
But to assert that Trump needs to be removed from office, RIGHT NOW, as opposed to allowing the voters decide in the upcoming November elections, because the future of America as a viable constitutional republic hangs in the balance, is silly.
No, we are not about to fall into an abyss. You may have plenty of reasons to dislike Trump; but he is not in the process of dismantling the US Constitution.
The end result of this rushed impeachment process based on significant evidence of serious misconduct which however does not jump at you as obvious criminal behavior is to have trivialized impeachment. Impeachment should be viewed by all as an extreme remedy for truly extreme circumstances. And this is not the case right now.
By labeling Trump’s abuse of power as an impeachable “high crime”, the Democrats ended up with the unintended consequence of trivializing impeachment. Do not be surprised if in the future, whoever will be in the White House, a hostile House majority will threaten to impeach another president whom they profoundly disagree with.
I do not believe that the Founders decided to include impeachment provisions in the US Constitutions as just another tool to fight inevitable political battles. For that purpose we have free elections held at regular intervals.
Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.