So what’s the point of impeaching at this juncture?

4 minute read

January 25, 2021, 9:37 PM

First of all, I am happy to breathe a sigh of relief that Donald Trump is no longer the president.  A four-year mistake is over, and the grown-ups are back in charge.  I look forward to hearing what happens in the White House now that people who are actually halfway competent at governing are running the show again.  I hope that the next four years see the country do exceptionally well, and I hope that the Biden administration succeeds beyond everyone’s wildest dreams.

However, there is one lingering matter remaining from the Trump administration: an impeachment trial.  After the whole storming of the Capitol on January 6, the House of Representatives impeached Trump for inciting an insurrection, and that was the status quo when he left office on the 20th.  Then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declined to expedite a trial, and so it became the case that Trump’s second impeachment trial would occur after he had already left office.  Considering that Trump is now out of office, the only thing that could be accomplished through the impeachment process would be to disqualify him from holding office again in the future, and I really question the necessity of going through an entire impeachment process to accomplish that.

I freely admit that I opposed this impeachment, because impeachment is a process that has only a single sanction, just like the University of Virginia’s honor system: if convicted, you’re removed from office.  Therefore, going through the impeachment process feels like a waste of time, since, as we saw, Trump’s term expired before the impeachment process was completed, and therefore, it’s now a moot point.  With Trump out of office, nothing changes, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment trial.  For what it’s worth, I would have been perfectly content in just ignoring Trump for the final two weeks of his term, and then letting his term expire on January 20.  I also am convinced that Trump has trashed whatever credibility that he might have still had with the storming of the Capitol, and I suspect that because of that, most people wouldn’t vote for him for dogcatcher, let alone the President of the United States.  Therefore, an impeachment trial of the former president seems like it would prevent us from moving forward and putting the Trump era behind us, at least as far as our politics go.

The thing is, impeachment is a political process, and not a legal process.  An impeachable offense is whatever a given Congress decides that it is at any given point in time.  Nothing more, nothing less.  There are no absolutes when it comes to what is considered impeachable.  It is entirely up to Congress.  And with Trump’s no longer holding elected office, the need for a political process to remove him goes away.  There is no need to remove him from office anymore, because he’s already out.  All it does is make the Democratic Party look petty and vindictive, like they’re just trying to “get” him, especially after they had already impeached him once within the past year.  This also now gums up the Senate, preventing them from dealing with other, more important matters such as confirming new appointees, economic stimulus measures, and so on.

As impeachment was taught to me back in school, the idea of impeachment is that removal is not the end-all.    Rather, as it is considered improper to prosecute a sitting officeholder, the idea is that you remove them from office via the impeachment process, and then let the legal system take over from there and prosecute the now-former officeholder.  That’s what happened with former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich.  In his case, he was impeached by the state legislature for various official misconduct, convicted by the state senate and removed from office, disqualified from holding any further office in Illinois, and then prosecuted criminally for his actions once out of office.  Ultimately, Blagojevich went to prison for about eight years for his offenses.  And for Illinois governors, that sounds about right, because as I understand it, the typical career progression for an Illinois governor is the governor’s mansion, and then jail.

In Trump’s case, he is no longer the president.  Therefore, they can’t remove someone who is already out of office.  Doing all of this just to get the disqualification for future office is kind of a non-starter to me.  By pursuing it, it shows that deep down, the Congress doesn’t trust the electorate, i.e. they think that people would vote for Trump again in the future unless they bar him ever running again.  And that’s a message that I don’t like.  But I really don’t think that he will run again.  And if he does, I imagine that he won’t get very far, because now he would have that washed-up former president cred with the voters, and I don’t think that would play as well compared to a fresh face in 2024.

If they’re trying to hold him responsible for the storming of the Capitol and various other misdeeds, he’s out of office now.  Let’s prosecute him.  I’m sure that there are plenty of state and/or federal prosecutors who would love to have an opportunity to get a piece of him.  I strongly recommend not taking the approach that Gerald Ford took with Nixon, i.e. Trump should not get a blanket pardon.  I believe that, like happened with Ford, it would be political suicide.  Additionally, there is no better way to show that the various things that Trump did are not acceptable than to make an example out of him, and hold him responsible in court.  You want to know what accountability looks like?  That is what accountability looks like.  I hope that they’re not using the impeachment process as a half-assed substitute for actually holding him accountable in court, i.e. this is his comeuppance, and he will never be prosecuted like they mean it.

So all in all, I wish that they hadn’t impeached Trump, but what’s done is done.  I suppose that we’ll all see together what happens in this post-presidency impeachment trial.  I suspect that Trump gets acquitted at the end of it, making the whole thing a waste of everyone’s time, but we’ll see.  All I know is that the Democrats had better come out in spades these next two years, though, or else they stand to get slaughtered in the midterms.

Categories: National politics