Trump Pelosi State of the Union 2019
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Wade into any corner of the political internet in a discussion of impeaching Donald Trump, and you’ll see a circle of endlessly repeated, often mutually contradictory arguments.

On the anti-impeachment side are, of course, Republicans who feel that the president hasn’t done anything wrong to merit impeachment. But beyond that, anti-impeachment sentiments on the left tend to be driven by practical, electoral concerns. Those in this camp argue that impeachment won’t drive Trump out of office because the Republican Senate will protect him, anyway. Meanwhile, the theory goes, impeachment proceedings would inflame the Republican base and make Trump harder to defeat in 2020. Caution, they believe, is the better part of valor in the interest of the long-term health of the party.

Pro-impeachment arguments, on the other hand, tend to come from two distinctly different camps. There are those who believe that a full, televised airing of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors may compel even Republicans in the Senate to act, bringing this sordid chapter of American history to a close. There are also those who believe that the political consequences of impeachment proceedings (even if they are stymied in the Senate) will not be as negative as naysayers believe–in other words, that Democrats learned the wrong lessons from the Clinton impeachment and that Republicans did not actually suffer from their actions as much as conventional wisdom has led many to believe.

In this debate, though, typically the anti-impeachment side comes off (or tries to) as the wise, responsible cool heads looking out for the long-term good, while the pro-impeachment side is often characterized as passionate but hyper-partisan hotheads in search of an easy shortcut to defeating Trump at the ballot box.

Unfortunately, this framing of the debate is exactly the opposite of what it should be. Impeaching Trump is the hard, responsible thing to do for the long-term health of the country. Avoiding it is the easy shortcut that does the most damage over the long run.

Most people on the pro-impeachment side understand that the GOP Senate is not going to convict. We understand that the likelihood of Trump being forced out of office is quite low. And while impeachment advocates do argue in good faith that impeachment inquiries will likely hurt Trump by exposing his crimes much more than it helps him in mobilizing his base, the truth is that those considerations are only secondary. Impeachment is unlikely to affect very many voters one way or another, most of whom are already committed.

Impeaching the president is about trying to insist that at least one institution in government was willing to hold a venal, self-dealing, openly corrupt would-be dictator accountable. Unfortunately, the only institution left is the Democratic House, which makes it an intrinsically partisan fight. But ultimately it’s not even about partisanship. It’s about laying a marker–not only on behalf of accountability, but on behalf of history. It’s about making clear that someone tried to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, doing everything they could in the face of a corrupted Republican Party and its propaganda allies in the conservative infotainment complex.

By contrast, impeachment’s opponents are making suspect claims about the electoral impacts of holding the president fully accountable, in the service of short-term gain in a single election. As support for impeachment is not only rising with the Democratic base but doubling with independents., it is becoming harder and harder to make even that argument. But regardless, refusing to take a stand for public decency and rule of law just to gain a potentially minor, ephemeral advantage in a single election cycle isn’t wise. It’s lazy. That’s the shortcut.

Trump is not a one-off phenomenon. He isn’t a black swan. He is a symptom of what has become of the Republican Party. He is not the disease, and the GOP will never go back to “normal.” There will be more Trumps in the future. One of them may even become president again. And Trump is deeply unpopular. If Democrats in the House lay down and refuse to take even the first step to hold him accountable, then no one like him in the future will ever be.

Impeachment isn’t designed to be an easy way out. It’s a slog. It’s the hard work that must be done to defend the country. It’s also good politics. But even if it weren’t, it would still be the wise, responsible thing to do on behalf of future generations.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.