I have long advocated not fighting with your family on holidays. Familial bonds and friendships are too important to throw away over passing political disagreements. I’m not saying you should be a punching bag; if someone pulls a metaphorical impeachment gun, I don’t want you coming back with just a drumstick in your hands. But it’s best to focus on the turkey, “Alice’s Restaurant” (the eternally hilarious song, not the badly dated movie), and football, and leave the politics to the professionals. Arguing is probably not going to persuade any of your red-hat-donning relatives, anyway.
Based on this realization, I have chosen a sort of preemptive strike. I have chosen to debate with myself—to be a “master debater,” so to speak—in hopes that I might persuade someone who is actually open to persuasion (you, dear reader), and not ruin another Lewis Thanksgiving.
The good news is this: If you’re curious how a center-right columnist turned into a booster for impeaching a Republican president, my not-so-inner dialogue is here for all to enjoy:
Look, I know Donald Trump isn’t great. But you’re a conservative. Shouldn’t you just suck it up and stick with your team?
I’m a lot of things, including a very flawed child of God, a father, a son, a husband, an American, an Orioles fan, and a writer. Being a conservative is part of my identity, but it isn’t necessarily the defining part. When my role as a patriotic American, for example, comes into conflict with my loyalty to a political party (that is ostensibly the home of my political philosophy), the latter must be subordinate to the former.
No matter how deeply you care about important conservative policies--defending the right to life, encouraging free markets and entrepreneurship, etc.—these very important things take a back seat when compared to a president who is eroding the social fabric, liberal democracy, and who is gaslighting America. If we lose the country, none of the other stuff will matter.
Okay, so you don’t like Trump. I get it. So why not just shut up about it? You’re doing this for the money, right?
I have always been considered a “Never Trumper,” but until recently, I chose to temper my criticism with occasional praise for him when he did something good. In recent months, you might have noticed, that has changed. My writing has almost solely focused on calling for Trump’s impeachment.
Part of the reason for my Trump-centric focus is that he, frankly, wants it that way. But I must also confess that the Ukraine call finally convinced me that Trump can never be managed or mitigated. He must be removed or defeated.
So why don’t I just lay low for the next couple of years—or write about something else? This quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes may help explain my thinking on the subject: “I think that, as life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time at peril of being judged not to have lived.”
Just because you don’t like Trump doesn’t mean you should impeach him. Do you really think this rises to the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors?”
First, thank you for not bringing up the tired and debunked talking points about Ukraine not knowing the aid was withheld—or the fact that the aid was eventually restored. Could it be that you actually already read my column on this?
To your question, I actually think that what Trump has essentially admitted to doing—using the power and prestige of the presidency (not to mention our tax dollars) to coerce a foreign leader into investigating Trump’s main political rival—is more “impeachable” than a lot of things that are explicitly in the criminal code. This might sound crazy, but if Trump executed someone on 5th Avenue, it would concern me less, in terms of demonstrating his commitment to faithfully execute the office of president. I realize that’s saying a lot—which should give you an indication of just how serious I believe Trump’s abuse of power has been.
Why not just let the voters decide? After all, there’s an election right around the corner.
As I’m sure you know, we don’t live in a pure democracy. We live in a republic where other elected officials in a co-equal branch also have duties and obligations—to their own supporters, to their own consciences, and to the Constitution. This is one of the ways our system insulates itself from the passions of the mob. As Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, bravely told his constituents: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
The mechanism of impeachment is outlined in the Constitution, just like elections are. If what Donald Trump has (essentially) admitted to doing does not rise to the standard of impeachment, then we should just remove impeachment from the Constitution because that means nothing will ever rise to the standard of impeaching and removing a president.
Republicans, who are now clamoring about the “Will of the people!” seem to have conveniently forgotten that Trump lost the popular vote—and that, not long ago, they tried to impeach Bill Clinton. I’m one of the few people who is pretty consistent about this anti-majoritarianism (I wanted to impeach Bill, and I’m for keeping the Electoral College).
Finally, Trump was trying to rig his re-election. It strikes me as weird that the penalty for this would be to have a… re-election (where—if you buy the notion that he has already injected questions about Hunter Biden into the public consciousness—he might still actually benefit from having rigged it).
You’re never going to get 20 Republicans to support this. It’ll probably backfire and re-elect Trump. So why waste your time?
I feel like this is wish-casting, disguised as sagacious political analysis. First, instead of strategically gaming out the political ramifications, Congress should decide to pursue impeachment based solely on the Constitutional merits. Second, the notion that the only two options are that impeachment either removes Trump or backfires on Democrats is a false dichotomy. There are other scenarios, including the potential that Trump survives but is weakened (and that his defenders are publicly exposed).
Lastly, although the bar is incredibly high, and although Republicans seem to be unmovable, it’s impossible to know how things will develop until you actually begin issuing subpoenas and interviewing witnesses—which is one of the reasons I am increasingly thinking Democrats should back off their self-imposed “hurry-up” offense timeline, and try and force some senior aides like Don McGahn and John Bolton to testify.
Why not just censure him?
This sounds like a moderate “compromise” idea, but censuring Trump would be worthless. Now, if we lived in a world where a censure would constitute a stain on Trump’s legacy that would cause him shame, then this might be a viable option that would serve to (a) punish Trump, without removing him, and (b) work as a disincentive for Trump (and future presidents) to replicate this behavior. Sadly, we do not live in that world. This is, at best, naive, and, at worst, a bogus argument, meant to distract and confuse, while retaining the appearance of plausibility.
Okay, I get why you don’t like Trump. But why are you giving good conservatives like Nikki Haley and Will Hurd such a hard time? If you want a post-Trump GOP, aren’t we going to need them?
Part of the reason I’ve been so hard on Haley and Hurd for their failure to stand up to Trump is that I had high expectations for them. But the other reason is that they had so little to lose. Having concluded her role as U.N. Ambassador, Haley could have ridden off into the sunset, amazingly, untarnished by Trump.
Instead, she chose to re-emerge and defend him against charges of impeachment. Likewise, Hurd—a former CIA officer who clearly knows better—has already announced he will not seek re-election. It’s one thing to demonstrate cowardice when you have something to be afraid of. To fail to rise to the occasion when your neck isn’t even on the line is much worse.
I also want to reject the premise of this question—which is that conservatives will need Haley and Hurd. Why would we need politicians who, during their defining moment, caved in? If a politician can’t be counted on to demonstrate character and principle today, why should we assume they will be great conservative leaders tomorrow? Who’s to say that these two are the heirs apparent to Reagan conservatism?
Well, there you have it. My take on this moment in American history. The good part about arguing with myself is that—I’ve got to admit—I find myself very persuasive and (despite the compelling pushback) I still kind of like me. And now that I’ve gotten this out of my system, here’s hoping I won’t end up ruining the holidays. Again. Now bring on the turkey!