The Case for Preemptive Impeachment

If this past week has not strengthened Tom Steyer’s case for the expedited removal of Donald Trump from the White House, nothing can.

It is inevitable that the Mueller investigation will discover the smoking gun of unprecedented illegality in the Trump administration. It is inevitable that Trump will stoop to any depth to retain his ill-gotten power in the wake of such a revelation. It is inevitable that the path Trump chooses to retain power will be catastrophic in its scope.

Why not move to avoid the worst possible outcome? Why not attempt to ensure that some semblance of our democracy survives? Why not move to impeach and remove Trump from the White House as quickly as politically possible?

Does anyone doubt that as Mueller gets closer to the truth, the 45th President will try to trump up the case for another military misadventure in an effort to prevent the ouster of a sitting President in wartime? Does anyone doubt that he’s crazy enough to plow headlong into nuclear war with North Korea, reasoning that if he ultimately goes down, he’ll take as many people as possible with him? Does anyone doubt that thousands of lives would be lost in a politically motivated war?

There is nothing morally or legally inappropriate or improper about the prospect of using impeachment as a means to remove an objectively wayward President from office before that objectively wayward President takes an action that ends mass numbers of lives. Impeachment and removal from office is the only way to stop this nightmare from becoming reality. It’s the only way to contain the spread of this virus.

In his December 1998 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee regarding the impeachment of Bill Clinton, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who worked with that committee during its impeachment inquiry into Richard Nixon in 1974, observed:

The remedy of impeachment is to remove the officeholder. Get the worm out of the apple. It’s a prophylactic remedy, it is not punitive.

We certainly need such a prophylactic remedy to deal with a President who’s screwing this country and infecting our democracy.

The high crimes and misdemeanors are already in plain sight. Flagrant disregard for the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution. Abuse of power, in terms of his vicious attacks on our Article III courts and our Constitutionally-protected press. Malignant neglect of United States citizens in Puerto Rico. Heck, his attempt to destroy the Clean Power Plan is, for all intents and purposes, a high crime against humanity.

As radical as it may seem to some, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with removing a lawless President from office before his lawlessness becomes catastrophic, just as there is nothing wrong with a firm removing an executive who engages in sexual harassment before that executive feels emboldened enough to commit sexual assault. It is not wrong to, in essence, profile a President—especially one who fits the description of someone who wants to turn democracy against itself in order to acquire dictatorial powers.

There’s another reason impeachment must take place as soon as politically possible; a man as reckless as Trump cannot be trusted with the seamless transition of power if he is defeated in the 2020 election. In fact, it’s not too far-fetched to think that Trump would simply refuse to engage in the traditional process of handing off the White House to a new tenant.

If a Democrat defeats Trump in 2020, the 45th President is likely to do everything possible to sabotage the incoming administration. Trump would, in all likelihood, show none of the grace Barack Obama showed him after he won the Electoral College last year.

A disruptive transition of power could possibly be a national-security hazard, as America’s adversaries would find the prospect of wounding this country in the midst of a chaotic changing of the guard irresistible. If the worst were to happen, Trump and his allies would of course gloat, claiming that the incoming Democratic administration “emboldened our enemies.” It would be a gigantic mess–and an avoidable one. (Not that Mike Pence is any prize, but it’s a bit difficult to imagine him being as depraved as Trump would likely be in the aftermath of an election loss.)

Our democracy will not save itself. Things will not magically get better. Impeachment is the only bulwark against autocracy and corruption. The case is already strong and compelling. However, with this particular President, even a relatively weak case would be good enough. Resistance requires impeachment. If it’s not done, we’re done.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.