Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Ending the Aberration

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, October 15, 2019 --  

Neither impeachment nor an election guarantee the removal of the most unfit president in America's history. That's all the more reason to try both strategies.

For most Americans save Republican Party officials and their base, the question at hand is how best to rid the country of a corrupt and embarrassing president.  One path, just over a year away, is the 2020 election.  The other, perhaps just weeks away, is an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Periodic elections are the normal way for citizens in a democracy to rid themselves of a bad leader. But these are not normal times. At issue between the president and his opponents are not just policy differences, but unpresidential and potentially criminal behavior.

By his own admission, the president fired the director of the FBI over the "Russia thing" when the agency was looking into his campaign's collusion with Russian agents. More recently, Trump privately asked the Ukrainian president to investigate a political opponent and has since publicly called on Russia and China to do the same. He has demanded the identity of the whistleblower who reported his conversation with the Ukrainian president, calling the whistleblower "close to a spy", and issuing a veiled threat against him.

The key advantage of removing Trump from office ahead of the 2020 election is to show that Americans recognize he is unfit for office. His unpresidential and unacceptable behavior has embarrassed America for years and have tarnished the nation's image as a beacon of liberty around the world. Impeaching Trump would mark his election as an aberration and help erase the stain he has put on America's reputation.

But there are other considerations. The anger that made the Trump election possible is far from exhausted.  The president's base, against all rationality, continues to support him, out of some strange tribal loyalty fueled by divisive identity politics.

If the president is impeached and possibly removed from office, it may further alienate this angry base. The worst case scenario is for a sizable minority of Americans to give up on the rule of law as stacked against them, rejecting democracy much like they have already rejected mainstream news publishers. The same risk also exists in the event Trump is defeated in the 2020 election and then denounces the loss as a rigged contest. Impeachment at least has the advantage of potentially avoiding Trump's command of a six-month-long general election cycle plastered across cable news stations. Usually, it's best to rip off a band-aid quickly.

Conventional wisdom says that it is almost impossible to remove the president from office through a Senate trial when Republican lawmakers have a majority. Die-hard Trump loyalists may be a small minority of Americans, but they are a large percentage of Republican primary voters. So long as Republican senators fear the wrath of these voters during the next primary election, many will never vote out the president in an impeachment trial.

But Trump's perceived Senate stronghold may erode rapidly if the president starts to look shaky. Only 22 of the 53 Republican senators will face voters in 2020 with the rest not facing re-election for two to four years. That means 31 Republican Senators have no immediate primary threat.

Admittedly, removing Trump from office via a Senate trial is hardly a sure thing. But neither is it a sure thing that Trump will be removed in the 2020 election. Democrats' chances should be good given that president Trump failed to win the popular vote in 2016 and his approval rating is well below 50 percent. But never underestimate Democrats' ability to blow it. Democratic primary voters are currently rallying behind a left-wing Senator Elizabeth Warren who pledges to break up American tech giants and aggressively battle other corporations. Democrats appear determined to pick the only politician more unpalatable to Americans than the disgrace of a human currently occupying the office.

The fact that neither path to removing Trump is a sure thing is the best reason of all to pursue both strategies. But as important as it is to remove Trump, it is even more important that a door be left open to return his furious and reality-denying supporters to the fold.  Trump supporters don't have to be converted to liberals.  But they must be gently helped to acknowledge the reality of their leader's unacceptable behavior.  Unless they do so, they will only seek to rally behind a new populist who might be just as bad -- or worse. And in a worst-case scenario, they might withdraw from the democratic process and actively work against it.

As the impeachment and the election processes advance in parallel, it is critically important that Trump supporters not be dismissed. Americans must remember that Trump's supporters, however misguided, are their fellow countrymen. While aggressively working to eject America's disgraceful leader across two fronts, let us not forget the ultimate goal of keeping our democracy sound and strong.