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It's Time To Impeach Donald Trump

President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn upon arrival at the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn upon arrival at the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

When Donald Trump took the oath of office two years ago, nobody knew what sort of president he would be. Plenty of idiotic optimists, myself included, hoped that he might ditch his race-baiting demagoguery in favor of more centrist policies. We assumed (again, idiotically) that his raw need for adulation might kick in, and compensate for his lack of a moral compass.

But the office of the presidency hasn’t changed Trump; it has merely amplified his flaws. As a businessman-turned-career-criminal, Trump was greedy, impulsive, inept, deceitful, cruel and selfish.

As president, he has forged his administration as a kleptocratic syndicate, and lashed out at any democratic institution that seeks to hold him accountable: law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the Fourth estate, judges, Congress, even his own former loyalists.

When confronted by his lies or misdeeds, Trump retreats into a bubble of self-victimizing denial, seeking refuge — and inflaming his partisans — in the safe spaces provided by Fox News, private resorts and jingoistic rallies.

His spineless congressional allies, in particular, Mitch McConnell, have rubber stamped every depravity.

By the standards of the U.S. Constitution, which requires the president to place the public interest above his self-interest, and to serve all Americans, Trump has never operated as a legitimate president.

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to call for impeachment ... I’ve come to see this wait-and-see approach as a dangerous cop-out.

Almost no one in the media has the courage to say this directly, but it’s what virtually every constitutional expert knows. Most American citizens know it, too. In a recent poll, more Americans wanted Trump impeached than re-elected, and nearly 60 percent believe Russia has compromising information on our leader. Think about that.

With the help of an electoral college that subverts the popular will, Russian interference, a feckless media and voter suppression, we elected a person unfit to serve as president.

The Founders recognized this might happen, which is why they created the mechanism of impeachment. It is the precise remedy invoked when a president endangers our democracy.

And it is time for the House of Representatives to begin the process of impeachment. I stress the word process because impeachment is widely misunderstood. It is not the sudden expulsion of a president based on political animus. It is an investigative process designed to determine whether the president is a criminal, a tyrant or a traitor.

In the past, I’ve been reluctant to call for impeachment. Like the majority of Americans, I felt it was best to wait for special counsel Robert Mueller to issue his report. But over the past few months, I’ve come to see this wait-and-see approach as a dangerous cop-out.

If you don’t believe me, please conduct the following thought experiment. Pretend that Hillary Clinton is president. Now think about how our media and politicians would react if we learned the following:

*That Clinton had plans to build a luxury hotel in Moscow, which she hid from the public throughout her campaign

*That Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a cyber-attack on Clinton’s opponent in the hopes of electing her

*That Clinton’s campaign manager and closest aides met with a Kremlin lawyer (in Clinton’s building) promising dirt on her opponent

*That Clinton, once elected, fired the director of the FBI, in her own words, because she wanted "the Russia thing” to go away

*That the FBI was so alarmed they opened an investigation into whether Clinton — the sitting president — was a Russian agent

*That Clinton consistently behaved like “Putin’s puppet” by fulfilling his every wish, and even sided with him over U.S. intelligence

*That Clinton denied any contact with Russians when, in fact, law enforcement documented more than a hundred contacts between her campaign and Russians

*That Clinton directed her lawyer to commit a felony by paying hush money to two men, one of them an adult film star, with whom she had affairs

*That Clinton allegedly directed this same lawyer to lie to Congress about her Moscow deal

*That the special counsel into Russian interference in Clinton’s campaign produced more than 30 convictions, including Clinton’s campaign manager and national security advisor

*Clinton refused to release her tax returns to dispel concerns about her reliance on Russian money

*Clinton openly used her presidency to promote her hotels and resorts, collecting millions from lobbyists and foreigners seeking to influence her

I could go on (and on) but the point is obvious.

The House of Representatives would have initiated impeachment proceedings against Clinton the second the GOP won the majority, perhaps even earlier.

And they would be right to have done so. Think about it: the FBI looked at this pattern of behavior and decided that the president in question might be a Russian asset.

If that’s not grounds for an impeachment inquiry, what is?

It might also be helpful to try to imagine what the founders would have made of the Trump regime. “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment shall be continued,” George Mason noted. “Shall any man be above justice?”

That’s the central question here.

Trump’s policies are an assault on the essence of American democracy: his attempt to ban Muslims, his ruthless separation and imprisonment of migrant children, his negligence of Puerto Rican hurricane victims. His hateful rhetoric has inspired countless hate crimes in which Americans have been terrorized and killed. His reckless deregulation and suicidal denial of climate change have endangered the entire species. He and his feckless cabinet have systematically converted offices intended to safeguard the public interest into pig troughs for private corporations.

There’s no guarantee the House would impeach, or that the Senate would vote to convict ... that’s not the point.

And Trump himself seems to lack any understanding of how devastating it would be, for instance, to order a nuclear attack.

Trump, and the enthrallingly awful nature of his presidency, has steadily degraded our public discourse. It’s no longer surprising to see a band of teens in MAGA gear apparently harassing a Native American veteran.

These may not be impeachable offenses. But all of them make obvious that Trump is a clear and present danger.

Honestly, if James Madison or one of the other founders were alive today, they would be completely gobsmacked that Trump was still in office, and even more so that Congress hadn’t initiated the investigative process of impeachment.

There’s no doubt that an impeachment inquiry would be ugly. But with Trump, any attempt to rein him in is ugly. Such is the nature of tyrants. They come to power through corrupt means, and fight removal tooth and nail.

There’s no guarantee the House would impeach, or that the Senate would vote to convict.

Again, that’s not the point. The point is for the Congress to fulfill its oath to the people, even if the president won’t.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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