Knowing there will be an asterisk of shame next to his name in the history books drives Trump around the bend, apparently. But he earned it. Trump is precisely what the framers of the Constitution feared, an unethical and immoral president who would trample the nation’s laws and institutions to keep himself in power. The House, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), stood up to tell him: No. Not here. Not now.
“What is at risk here is the very idea of America,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said, as he ended eight hours of often bitter debate. Moments later, the House approved two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The idea of America survives. At least for now.
Let me note, probably not for the last time, that this historic action wasn’t taken by “the Democrats,” although it is true that no Republicans voted to impeach. “The Democrats” have no standing under the Constitution to do anything. Schoolchildren will learn that it was the House, given the “sole” power of impeachment by our founding charter, that voted to mark Trump’s presidency indelibly with the ultimate stain. And they will learn why.
The House impeachment inquiry assembled a compelling case that Trump used the power of his office to coerce a foreign government to publicly smear his most formidable potential rival in the coming election. The scheme was revealed by an anonymous whistleblower before it could be fully consummated. In this case, “he [Trump] got caught,” Schiff said.
When the House demanded the administration produce witnesses and documents that could shed more light on the president’s actions, Trump did not emulate prior presidents by claiming executive privilege and negotiating some sort of compromise. He claimed a kind of “absolute immunity” befitting a monarch or a dictator — and effectively mocked the separation-of-powers architecture on which our whole system of government is erected.
Trump thus joins Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton as the only presidents to be impeached. Those impeachments were decried at the time as “partisan,” too, and historians argue over whether they were justified. But nothing will ever erase them.
Wednesday’s debate was fascinating on many levels. Impressionistically, on the Democratic side you saw a diverse group of lawmakers step up to the microphones and, with a few exceptions, deliver their remarks in measured tones. On the Republican side, you mostly saw a parade of white men who shouted, gesticulated and occasionally snarled.
I listened to the whole debate, and I don’t believe I heard one of Trump’s Republican defenders attest to his sterling character. I don’t believe I heard one of them say Trump would never do the things he is accused of doing. However, I did hear many Republicans seek to excuse Trump’s conduct by noting that his scheme ultimately did not succeed. That says a lot about the president, and it says even more about the GOP, which once had the right to call itself the Party of Lincoln. Not anymore. It is now, without question, the Party of Trump.
We heard a lot from Republicans about the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump, about how Democrats “hate” them and find them “deplorable” and are trying to “deny them a say in their government.” We heard not a peep from Republicans about the nearly 66 million Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton or the nearly 8 million who voted for other candidates. Note to the GOP: This impeachment can’t “overturn the will of the American people.” The electoral college already did that.
But, of course, no one is disputing the result of the 2016 election. Trump was duly elected, according to the rules set out by the Constitution. Now he has been duly impeached, also according to the Constitution. This is how the system was designed to work.
Impeachment is the only tool we have to punish, and potentially remove, a president. There are very good reasons it has been used only three times in our history. And there are very good reasons one of those impeachments was that of Donald Trump.