The Impeach Trump bandwagon got underway as soon as he was elected, but I’ve never climbed on board.
His election surprised us. Donald Trump did not talk or act like a traditional president. In fact, a significant part of Trump’s appeal to his supporters was just how unlike a president he could be during the campaign. Many Americans wanted a president who would “shake things up,” and their wish has been granted.
And even though the election was much closer than Trump likes to imagine, the will of the voters must be respected. Bad policy in itself — that is, policy with which I disagree — or a crude, disrespectful occupant of the White House isn’t enough to justify impeachment.
Besides, given the makeup of the House and Senate, the constitutional remedy of impeachment was never a political possibility. People like me, who thought that America made a bad choice for president, just have to get used to the idea and hope for the best.
Now I’m not so sure. Things have gotten serious in the last couple of weeks. Trump’s alienation of the countries that have stood with us since World War II to support and promote the principle of free, open, tolerant, democratic and law-based societies has done real damage to global culture. Soon that damage may become irreparable.
On the other hand, Trump’s unfathomable toleration — and sometimes apparent preference — for autocratic, strong-man governance by force, subterfuge and, sometimes, torture and murder has undermined our most essential American aspiration: a free society based on the democratic rule of the majority, the protection of the minority and the rule of law.
Nothing could affirm our allegiance to these values — to the world and to ourselves — more clearly than the constitutional remedy of the impeachment of the man who seems bent on destroying them. Sometimes we just have to say we’ve made a mistake.
But impeachment is a drastic, divisive solution and, in our current political climate, it’s still highly unlikely. Trump continues to enjoy apparently unshakeable support among his base and very strong support — upwards of 90 percent — among Republicans in general.
A better solution is in the voting booth, and thus the November election looms large. Democrats are working hard to change the game, but Republicans are essential to putting America back on course.
From the beginning, a shorthand version of our political history is aptly depicted as the tension between loyal Americans who prefer that the greater share of the power reside in the states and those who prefer that it reside in the federal government.
My preference is for the latter. I believe that some problems and issues can be solved only by central governance. For example, our national defense, the civil rights of all Americans, trade policy and, in the modern era, climate change are issues that demand national solutions.
But some things are best done locally, and the conservative element that pulls us back toward the center is essential to the health of our nation.
In short, I’d side more with Washington and Adams, who pulled in one direction, than with Jefferson and Madison, who pulled in the other. But whatever their differences our first four presidents were true to a goal that became clearer and more concrete as our political history developed: a genuinely exceptional nation devoted to freedom, tolerance and the democratic rule of law.
What is happening now, however, has moved into an entirely new realm. Our best hope is that all Americans, Republicans, Democrats and independents, will recommit to our nation’s essential goals. Some Republicans have responded negatively to Trump’s fawning performance with Russia’s President Putin last week: John McCain, Ben Sasse, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and others. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have objected.
But more Republicans must commit their strong conservative voices to our unique national goals. A congressional check and electoral check on Trump are much preferable to impeachment.
But such checks can be achieved only with Republican support. Their role cannot be overstated: Nothing less than our grand republic is at stake.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at [email protected].