Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Why Democrats Shouldn't Be Afraid To Impeach Trump


I know what many of you are probably thinking. Isn’t this the same Peter Fegan who, politically speaking, looks both ways – FOUR TIMES! - before he crosses the street? Isn’t this the same Peter Fegan who calls himself a progressive, yet consistently sides with the more moderate elements within the Democratic Party, and actually had some nice things to say about Mitt Romney once? Yes to both. But in fairness, I’m also the driver who thinks the speed limit signs on the expressway are just advisories. Truth be told, I leap far more than I should.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the Democratic-controlled House should move to impeach Trump right out of the gate. The base may want it, but the facts at this time do not warrant such a bold move. As an old law professor once told me, it’s not what you think happened, it’s what you can prove happened that determines your success in a courtroom. And while impeachment is primarily a political move, it’s also a legal one.

James Carville’s warning to Democrats not to impeach Trump, on the surface sounds like good advice. After all, when Republicans went after then President Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinski affair, they paid for it in the ’98 midterms, while Clinton’s popularity soared to 73 percent. And as we know all too well, those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it.

However, there are several problems with Carville’s logic. For starters, the impeachment of Clinton - twenty years ago today - came after the midterms, not before, as some people seem to think. This is not hair-splitting. It means that even after suffering losses that November, Republicans still found sufficient evidence to proceed with articles of impeachment. Secondly, the total number of seats Republicans lost in the House that year was 5; they didn't lose a single Senate seat. More to the point, Republicans received almost a million more votes than Democrats. If the voters were sending a message, it must’ve gotten lost somewhere in the mail.

But here’s the real problem as I see it: what Clinton did on a scale of 1 to 10 doesn’t come remotely close to what Trump appears to have done. Lest we forget, Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Whitewater matter, after four years of dragging everyone and everything but the kitchen sink in front of a grand jury, finally nailed Clinton for lying about getting a blow job. So far in eighteen months, Robert Mueller has handed down more than 30 indictments, secured convictions on several high-ranking Trump officials and is getting dangerously close to making a case against this president for obstruction of justice and collusion. If that isn’t an impeachable offense, I seriously don’t know what would be.

To reiterate, Democrats should definitely bide their time and let Mueller finish his investigation. But once the report is released – and Dems must make damn sure it IS released and not suppressed – if they find cause to proceed with articles of impeachment, they should not hesitate to move forward. The Congress has a responsibility to be a check on the Executive branch. One of the reasons Democrats did so well last November was because they promised the voters they would hold this administration accountable. If they abdicate that responsibility, they will be no better than Republicans in the eyes of the electorate and they can kiss goodbye any hope of winning back the White House in 2020.

Are there risks associated with impeachment? I’d be lying if I said there weren’t. But, properly done, there’s more upside than not. Yes, the Senate won’t vote to convict, but that’s not important. If prosecutors only tried the cases they knew were slam dunks, the crime rate would be considerably higher than it currently is. The American public deserves not only a full accounting of what this president has done, but the reassurance that this government is still a functioning democracy and not a banana republic. Committee hearings are important, but can only go so far. At some point, Dems will have to shit or get off the pot.

Yes, Trump will gin up his base, but let’s face it: he's been doing that ever since he announced he was running for president. No matter what happens in 2019, Trump will try to spin it to his advantage. If Dems impeach him, he will be in full bore witch hunt conspiracy mode; if they don’t, he’ll say he was vindicated. If you know you’re going to catch hell, it might as well be for doing something.

As every baseball player knows all too well: no one ever hit a home run with the bat on his shoulder. To paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt: it is time for Democrats to spend themselves in a worthy cause. And there can be no more worthy a cause than standing up to the tyranny of a would-be dictator. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate. 

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