Keep calm and impeach

Joel Mathis

The full House of Representatives probably won't vote to impeach President Trump until Wednesday, but already there are signs that impeachment panic is rising, both in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

You can sense it in Rep. Jeff Van Drew's weekend decision to jump from the Democratic Party to the GOP, despite the likelihood he will lose his congressional seat anyway. You can see it in Carly Fiorina's assertion that impeaching the president is "vital," while bizarrely reserving the right to vote for his re-election. And you can feel it in the way Trump has turned his Twitter feed into a display of manic desperation — tweeting and retweeting more than 100 times a day as the vote draws near. If there is good news here, it is that the apprehension is bipartisan.

Impeachment panic is also apparent in the dozens upon dozens of think pieces offering ideas for how Democrats might proceed with the process but avoid suffering the all-but-certain rejection of the charges by the Republican-controlled Senate. Censure is a popular idea. "Conditional censure" — in which the House would withhold impeachment if the Senate agrees to condemn the president without ousting him — has also been proposed. Former White House Counsel John Dean, who knows a thing or two about impeachment, has even suggested Democrats impeach the president but refuse to submit the case to the Senate for trial. "Just let it hang over his head," Dean wrote over the weekend. "If the worst happens and he is re-elected, send it to the Senate. But keep investigating!!"

The anxiety is palpable and understandable.

America is in scary, barely charted territory — only two presidents have ever been impeached, leaving a thin trail of precedents to guide both the process and our expectations of the ramifications. In our TV-soaked culture, politicians and pundits alike have long since absorbed The Wire's most-famous maxim: "If you come at the king, you best not miss." (Trump administration officials have failed to heed the warnings about keeping notes on a criminal conspiracy, however.) Impeaching the president and holding the trial in this Senate is a flagrant violation of that ethos. No wonder impeachment advocates are acting nervous.

But what else is there to do?

Here, I will confess to sharing some impeachment anxiety myself. I believe the president should be impeached, for his attempt to use Ukraine to subvert American democracy, and for many other reasons that won't be named in the official charges against him. Even when he is not committing high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump is a vulgar and cruel president. The sooner he leaves office, the better.

But I do fear the consequences. If Trump is impeached but not ousted, it is possible he will consider himself fully unleashed from the usual standards of law and decent behavior. That is terrifying to contemplate. There could be a backlash from voters. Even if impeachment were somehow successful, Trump won't go away. He will try to remain a pundit — outlets like Fox News and OANN will be happy to give him a platform — and kingmaker, throwing his weight behind favored Republican candidates. And there is no scenario in which the end of Trump's presidency means an end to the careers of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, or Donald Trump Jr. Whether or not we get rid of Trump, Trumpism is here to stay — and impeachment might actually strengthen it.

Despite those reservations — despite the panic they inspire — the best path is forward.

Sometimes the good guys lose. Sometimes, the only choices are to surrender, or to fight a losing battle. In politics, we talk about "profiles in courage," not because the people who try to do what they think is right are always victorious, but because there is value in doing the right thing no matter the outcome. It is even more important to make such efforts when opposing a president for whom the "right thing" always seems to be what benefits him most — who has offered Americans no evidence that he values such notions as honor or integrity.

So it is time to stop panicking, to stop overthinking all of this. We know Trump welcomed Russia's intervention in the 2016 election. The evidence strongly suggests he tried to subvert the 2020 election by having Ukraine announce an investigation involving former Vice President Joe Biden's family. And we know that he would welcome outside interference again. Those are not the acts of a president keeping his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

In such circumstances, impeachment panic is pointless — because impeachment itself is necessary, regardless. It is time for the House of Representatives to take the impeachment vote, send the charges to the Senate, and let the chips fall where they may.

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