Country over politics: A utopian take on impeachment

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Wisely, the US Constitution makes it hard to remove a president through impeachment: The House must conduct an inquiry, followed by a vote requiring a simple majority to impeach. Should that pass, the President must be tried by the Senate. Only if convicted by a two-thirds majority of votes is the president removed from office.

If history offers any guidance, and partisanship prevails, Mr. Trump will be impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate—the fate of Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998). Still, other outcomes are possible: While no President was ever convicted by the Senate, Richard Nixon (1974) resigned rather than facing impeachment—an outcome that might be contrary to Mr. Trump’s nature, but could ultimately best serve his and the country’s interests.

Of course, for Mr. Trump, history is rarely a good predictor. What can be predict is a ghastly political fight, with impeachment as a tool to raise money and jockey for advantage in the 2020 elections. Republicans and Democrats alike, although with different rationale and restraint, see a political opportunity. I beg to differ. 

I am a non-affiliated voter. I consider Mr. Trump extraordinarily unfit as president, and I deeply disagree with him politically. I believe in civility, human rights and environmental stewardship, and I find greatly distressing that his actions and words are too often incompatible with these basic beliefs. Yet, policy differences are not impeachable—they can, and should, be resolved at election time.

The constitutional threshold for impeachment and conviction is far higher: “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Implied is the sense of deep danger to the country, due to presidential behavior, and beyond the remedies of the normal electoral process. There is, however, (some) room for subjective interpretation.

For me, it was when Robert Mueller reported that Russia interfered in the 2016 election—and is actively doing so for the elections ahead—that an impeachment inquiry became unavoidable. This is because Mr. Trump chose to dismiss, and even sought to discredit, a grievous threat to our elections. Free elections are at the core of our democracy. Knowingly letting them be compromised by a foreign country is indefensible, and impeachable, as it jeopardizes national security and the integrity of our political system.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi deserves credit for not calling for an impeachment inquiry lightly. Understanding that impeachment is an exceptional measure, the Speaker’s threshold of tolerance was higher than most in her Party. Eventually, though, she was left with no choice. Triggering her decision was, reportedly, a phone call to her from Mr. Trump, in association with the  whistleblower complaint that claims abuse of presidential power to get opposition research from Ukraine. But it really was only a matter of time, as Mr. Trump repeatedly pushes the limits of impeachable behavior.

The ongoing inquiry is a vivid reminder that we live in exceptional, troubling times. Predictably, we are witnessing a range of reactions, expressing—often loudly and along party lines—excitement, panic, vindication, anger, hate, and more. Mr. Trump, in particular, is displaying unprecedented levels of loudness and misinformation. Calls for national reconciliation are few, and unlikely to be heard.

Still, fellow Americans, let’s take a step back, for reflection. Whatever our political preferences and opinion of Mr. Trump are, this should be a time for restraint and fairness, not partisanship. Regardless of the outcome for Mr. Trump, we are determining far more than the guilt or innocence of a particular President. We are, first and foremost, determining how safe and strong our democracy is—now and into the future. That requires a patient, orderly, and objective process.

Thus my plea:

– Mr. Trump: You must let this process play out without undue interference. You have the right to present your case at an eventual Senate trial. Or, if your conscience so tells you, you can accept responsibility and step down to skip the process. What you cannot do is threaten, incite and distract. 

– Cabinet members: You must ensure your agencies’s full and expeditious collaboration with the inquiry. While you serve at the president’s pleasure, your ultimate responsibility is to the country.

– Mr. Schiff, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. McConnell: You must ensure that the impeachment and eventual trial processes are comprehensive, objective and fair. Let facts determine outcomes. Then, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr, McConnell, please jointly articulate—with whoever is President—a plan for national reconciliation, to ensure fair and constructive elections in 2020. 

– House Representatives and Senators: You swore an oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Be true to that oath. Offer bipartisan support to an inquiry that we should all agree is needed. Then vote your conscience, once all facts are available.

– Press: Report fairly. Stay objective and true to your mission, inform even when uncomfortable, but do not stoke rumors, conspiracy theories or partisan fires.

– Presidential candidates: Don’t get sidetracked. Focus your campaigns on your vision for America. Regardless of the impeachment outcome, our future—from climate change to the economy, and from America’s identity to fair and free elections—will be at stake on November 2020.

– Campaigns: Stop using impeachment as a political tool. It is dangerous, and unpatriotic, to further divide us. 

– Americans: We elected those who serve us in Congress. We should let them know where we stand on Mr. Trump’s actions. But the impeachment outcome is ultimately Congress’s choice. If we disagree with their choice, November 2020 remains the effective way to change our country’s course.

Is my plea utopian? Unfortunately, yes. In the alternate universe we have been living in—at the confluence of an unscrupulous president and an aging two-party system—, impeachment will likely turn into politics as usual or worse.

That is exactly why constructive utopia has a place, here and now. Not to escape reality, but to remind us of what we could be, should we all place country above politics.

— Antonio Baptista


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