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  • Writer's pictureOren Levin-Waldman

The Wages of Impeachment

Despite a recent positive jobs report, a low unemployment rate, a slight growth in wages, there are still problems plaguing the U.S. economy. Middle class wages which have been stagnant for several decades continue to stagnate. Increased globalization still entails the loss of good middle class manufacturing jobs. Wage inequality continues to rise, which speaks more to the disappearance of the middle class, and many still cannot afford reasonable healthcare. And yet, these issues could easily be missed given all the talk about impeachment.

That the Democrats have latched on to first resistance and now impeachment as their great electoral strategies only demonstrates that they never really were spokes people for middle class workers. Or that the politics of diversion was all they had because they had no real interest in the middle class. Even those Democrats calling for Medicare for All use this slogan as a euphemism for a single payer system. But they dare not say single payer for fear that they will be called too radical. Alas, they have fooled nobody.

The outcome of this process is still uncertain, but here are a couple of scenarios with different implications. First of all, impeachment is a political process which has little to do with the law. The standard “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” refers to abuses of power and authority vis-a-vis other branches of government. That is, an attempt by the president to encroach upon the authority of Congress would be considered an impeachable offense. Still, it is not clear that some of the Framers did not intend that it would be used as a form of no-confidence vote similar to a parliamentary system.

That isn’t how it has been used in the U.S. On the contrary, Congress has been loathe to use impeachment because it is essentially an anti-majoritarian impulse. To remove a president who was elected by the public is to effectively undo the will of an otherwise democratic majority. That is, it overturns the democratic process, which makes it all the more essential that it only be undertaken for serious constitutional reasons. Is it not the height of hypocrisy to denounce the president for alleged collusion with a foreign that interferes in our democracy, but at the same time abuse democracy to get rid of him?

That the opposing political party thinks the president morally and temperamentally unfit does not really qualify. The Democrats have wanted to impeach the president since before he was even sworn in. His existence was considered a crime against their sensibilities. And yet, to engage in this exercise without true public support carries enormous political risks. All the more so if the House is unwilling to go on the record. Many of the Republicans who voted to impeach Bill Clinton lost their house seats in the next election.

Until a few days ago the Democrats were holding hearings behind closed doors where witnesses could not be questioned by Republicans and the president could not be represented by counsel. To learn from the media that witnesses made damaging claims is hardly credible. Testimony in secret proceedings that is leaked by those who have a specific agenda, in no way makes the testimony credible. Because it was in secret and there was no serious cross examination, we cannot be certain that the leaked snippets weren’t fabricated in the first place.

What has been going on here is similar to the Sixteenth Century Bill of Attainder commonly employed in the kingdom of Henry VIII. Enemies of the king would be tried in secret and informed after the fact that they had been found guilty of say treason, in which case the penalty was death by beheading. The concept of due process is written into the Constitution for a reason. Unless one can face one’s accuser and cross examine, there is absolutely no protection against trumped up charges. Moreover, due process is essential to the protection of individual liberty, which is what the Constitution generally, and Bill of Rights specifically, is intended to protect.

Now we can talk about the different scenarios. The first scenario is to have a long protracted inquiry, without ever voting to impose articles of impeachment. By not imposing articles of impeachment, Democrats, especially in tight seats, have less reason to fear being voted out of office. The goal, then, is to simply weaken the president in the hopes it strengthens their prospects of winning the 2020 election. The danger here is that it could embolden his base and ensure that he is reelected. Moreover, the backlash it creates could result in a number of Democrats losing their seats.

The second scenario is to push for a quick vote, as suggested by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnel, so that there can be a speedy trial in the senate. Because two thirds of the Senate are needed to remove the president from office, and the votes simply aren’t there at the moment, the president, just like Bill Clinton before him, survives. Although this could potentially weaken the president, it too could embolden the president’s base and cost the Democrats house seats.

Why not just wait until the election? Most likely because the activists in the party that have been pushing this action have reached their point of no return. They have been drunk on impeachment from the start of his presidency. And yet, there is still a third scenario, which is to impose articles of impeachment, hold a trial, and if enough Republicans decide they have had enough, especially given dangerous foreign policy decisions like withdrawing from Syria, he could be removed from office. But be careful of what you ask for.

Removing the president does not undo the election in that Hilary Clinton becomes president, rather Vice President Pence does. On the one hand, this might give Democrats a better shot at winning the next election in that they won’t be running against an incumbent president with all of the benefits that incumbency entails. On the other hand, the new president becomes the incumbent and can now run for a full term in his own right.

It then becomes conceivable that some Republicans in the Senate looking to continue much of the conservative ideology, albeit with less impulsiveness and more predictability, might think there is a new benefit to removing the president from office. Were this to happen, the Democrats are no better off than they were in the first two scenarios. In fact, they might be in a worse position because a senate trial would force those vying for the nomination to abandon the campaign trail just weeks before the pivotal Iowa caucus to be present at the trial. The Constitution requires that all senators be present at the trial.

Meanwhile, issues that the nation should be focused on are all but ignored. The likely scenario is that the Democrats will lose the next election, and political polarization, especially between elites and workers, who some refer to as “deplorables”, will only get worse. That is, the country will only become more divided. Who in the end loses? You guessed it. The middle class, as always, gets the shaft. But then again, the Democrats — the party of the working person — has been giving the middle class the shaft all along with its agenda of resistance. As a result, no attempt has been made to work together on any issue that could benefit anybody, let alone the middle class.

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