Here are two responses to the 40 percent of Arkansas respondents who recently told a Talk Business & Politics/Hendrix College poll that President Trump should be impeached: “For what?” and “Be careful what you wish for.”
The Constitution defines the conditions for impeachment, and it’s not for excessive tweeting or even fitness to serve. It’s for “treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors” – high bars, of which Trump has been proven guilty of none.
Some Trump opponents point to the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bans officials from accepting a “present” from a foreign state without Congress’ consent. There’s an argument that the Trump family’s business dealings are a violation, but is payment for services rendered the same as a present? The clause has never been litigated in a major court case, but regardless, Congress clearly is consenting.
Let’s pause for a quick political science lesson: Impeachment is not “kicking out a president.” It’s an accusatory function of the House followed by a Senate trial requiring a two-thirds vote for removal.
It’s a drastic process, which is why it’s been rarely used for most of American history. President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 but fell one vote short of a Senate conviction. Then it was more than a century before it came close to happening again.
But now impeachment, or at least talk of it, is becoming a habit. President Nixon likely would have been impeached in 1974, but he left office. President Clinton was impeached after years of investigations into his private life that, finally, resulted in charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. While President Obama never came close to being impeached, too many Americans, including Trump, disputed his citizenship despite his undeniably American mother, birth certificate, and birth announcements in two Hawaii newspapers. Now there’s all this impeach-Trump talk.
Americans are becoming comfortable with denying the legitimacy of elected presidents they don’t like. That’s a dangerous path that denies the legitimacy of our democracy itself. Impeaching Trump – unless there is clearly a constitutional reason to do so – would further the momentum of this unfortunate trend. It would rip the country apart and invalidate the votes of 63 million Trump voters. And, because what comes around goes around, it would encourage Republicans to look for any excuse to impeach the next Democratic president.
So again, be careful what you wish for. And while we’re on the subject, let’s not call for the imprisonment of opposing political candidates. (“Lock her up!”) We’re not one of those countries where the loser of a power struggle “disappears.”
Finally, here’s another question for pro-impeachment poll respondents: You probably voted for someone else in November, but where were you on March 1, 2016? That’s when Trump won Arkansas’ Republican primary with 134,744 votes out of 410,920 cast.
That’s 33 percent of Republican primary voters in a crowded field. But he won only 8 percent of registered voters, and only 6 percent of the voting-age population.
More than 221,000 voted in the Democratic primary, while more than 1 million registered voters – more than 61 percent – sat out the primaries completely. A fraction of them could have changed the outcome. Ten thousand votes would have given the state to Sen. Ted Cruz, and 33,000 to Sen. Marco Rubio.
For Arkansas voters who really don’t believe Trump should be president, there were opportunities to prevent it at the ballot box. Only 276,176 Arkansans voted for another candidate in the Republican primary, their chance to help stop him early. The rest either voted in the Democratic primary or, much more likely, didn’t vote at all.
If Robert Mueller, who spent 13 years directing the FBI and is now looking into the Russia thing, uncovers a serious constitutional violation, then let’s talk about impeachment. Until then, instead of trying to launch the Constitution’s nuclear option to reverse the last presidential election, Americans should take advantage of its more regular option – voting – during the next one.
That option has served us well for more than two centuries. It’s available again in three years.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.