I don’t understand Richard Cohen’s argument. Actually, I think the problem is that he doesn’t understand it. He seems to be saying three things. The first is that impeaching Trump for anything less than a triple-ax murder will cause some kind of simmering, unacceptably dangerous civil disturbance. The second is that Trump is not likely to be convicted even if he is impeached. The third is that he shouldn’t be impeached unless he’s convicted.
To be honest, I’m being generous here by delineating his arguments much more clearly than his opinion piece does. Let’s start with the easiest thing to concede. It’s not likely that a Republican-controlled Congress will impeach the president, let alone convict him and toss him out of office. I think we can all accept that.
But the next bit is that even trying to do this would lead to violence, so we should be careful what we wish for.
In one scenario, a majority of the House impeaches the president but fails to convince two-thirds of the Senate to convict him. While there might be some disturbance during the House and Senate’s deliberations, if Trump were ultimately acquitted then there wouldn’t be any more reason for lasting unrest than when Bill Clinton was acquitted.
In another scenario, a majority of the House impeaches the president and does convince two-thirds of the Senate to convict him. That would mean that at least 24 Republican members of the House and 19 Republican senators voted to remove Trump from office. Under those circumstances, we can anticipate that the evidence would be overwhelming. In that case, there are two problems with Cohen’s argument. First, does he really think there would be a sustained violent backlash in the face of evidence so overwhelming that it caused the Republicans to remove their own president? And second, what use is the impeachment clause if a president can’t be removed, for fear of civil unrest, even in the face of clear evidence of criminality?
If the Democrats controlled the process, it’s much easier to see how things could get ugly even with the same basic set of facts. But the Democrats don’t currently control the process.
Mind you, the headline to Cohen’s piece is: We would impeach Trump at our peril.
Now, I’ve called Richard Cohen the the single worst columnist in America today. I’ve said that “his desire to suck up to power is so great that he’ll leap to the defense of anyone powerful who is questioned too hard about their honesty or rectitude.” I believe these things are still true.
For my part, I’d argue that we let Donald Trump handle our foreign policy toward North Korea at our peril. I think I have the stronger argument when it comes to trying to save our mortal asses. But that’s not really the point here.
The point is that even on his own terms, what Cohen is saying doesn’t make much sense.
The problem begins with tackling the issue without addressing whether Trump ought to be impeached. He gives us a bunch of reasons why that might turn out to be the case, but not in the service of deciding whether people should go ahead and do it.
Trump is a dust storm of lies and diversions with the bellows of a bully and the greasy ethics of a street-corner hustler. The chances of him passing Mueller’s muster are slim. Just for starters, the firing of James B. Comey as FBI director raises questions of obstruction of justice, and the appointments of Paul Manafort as campaign chairman and Michael Flynn as national security adviser emit the Kremlinesque scent of borscht. The possible crimes line up like boxcars being assembled for a freight train. Trump is a one-man docket.
It would seem that a man who is a one-man docket probably shouldn’t remain as our president, but Cohen says it would be too perilous to do anything about it. He also says that nothing will be done about it unless something actually is done about it, in which case we’re all going to die.
Obviously, we don’t know what Bob Mueller is going to do or what kind of evidence he is going to find. But my question for Cohen is to ask what he thinks our lawmakers ought to do if Mueller produces overwhelming evidence of criminality that leads even a Republican Congress to want to impeach and convict the president. Should they let it go out of fear that some Trump supporters will react with violence?
And if he doesn’t believe this, then why did he write this stupid column?