So, the dithering is over: Democrats will formally investigate the possibility of impeaching the president.
I’ve believed for a long time that impeachment was morally necessary, but politically risky. I still believe it: a solid majority of Americans even at this moment still opposes impeaching Trump, so the possibility that impeachment will backfire politically remains live. But this latest transgression* by Trump may have been a tipping point at which the risk has receded just enough to be acceptable. I am hopeful that with even moderate Democrats now calling for impeachment proceedings, public opinion will begin to move in the right direction. As I pointed out in my last post on the subject, ordinary people take their cues from political leaders. Impeachment is a momentous step. Until recently, hardly any really prominent Democrats were openly calling for impeachment. If the opposition party was showing little taste for impeachment, voters might reason, it must not be appropriate. Now that the Dems seem to be fairly united on the issue, Democratic voters and even independents will likely begin to reevaluate their own views.
Of course, there remains a great deal of uncertainty—and potential for disagreement among Democrats—about the course of the impeachment proceedings. Should an eventual impeachment resolution focus narrowly on the Ukraine issue, or more broadly on Trump’s multiple assaults on the rule of law and other violations of the public trust? I think a narrow focus on Ukraine would be a cop-out. The Congress needs to own up to its responsibility to defend the Constitution against a lawless, destructive chief executive. It’s not just about Ukraine. And of course, the near-certainty that the Senate will acquit Trump of all charges is not by any means an argument against impeachment. The Senate Republicans’ fealty to Trump will be discounted because of its utter predictability, and may even hurt some of them politically. I for one would love to see Susan Collins and the few remaining GOP “moderates” in the Senate forced to take a stand.
* It’s unfortunate that many of the moderate Democrats seem to have been moved by what they think are the ominous national security implications of Trump’s pressure on Zelensky. This reflects the typical misuse of the term “national security” to imply that the security of our country is at stake in everything having to do with our foreign policy. As I have often stressed, most of American foreign policy aims at objectives that go far beyond anything to do with the defense of the homeland. Helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia may be a praiseworthy foreign policy objective; it obviously affects Ukraine national security, but it has no bearing whatsoever on the security of the United States.