Let’s be clear from the start: the case for impeachment isn’t about Russian collusion. It isn’t even about a particular illegal act that the Trump administration is guilty of. In fact, our focus on impeachment as a criminal proceeding is divorced from its original purpose.
The founders viewed the presidency as an office of honor and dignity. Alexander Hamilton’s defense of the impeachment clause in Article II in Federalist 65-66 reflects this clearly when he refers to impeachment as a means of rectifying “the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust”. Moreover, James Madison saw impeachment as “indispensable… for defending the Community [against] the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate.”
As for the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Neil J. Kinkopf, a professor of law at Georgia State University, argues that the terms of impeachment were kept vague for the intended purpose of a flexible interpretation by the House of Representatives and the Senate.
If the purpose of impeachment is to account for violations of public trust and an unfit president unable to carry out honest governance, I can think of no public official more worthy of its exercise than President Donald J. Trump.
First, President Trump’s impulsive tendencies have put into question his ability to effectively govern. Deranged tweets and improvised statements threatening North Korea have put the country’s national security at risk. Late-night tweets have thrown Congress into disarray and undermined Trump’s own agenda. His seduction towards constant drama and controversy prevent him from focusing on the job.
Advisers and cabinet members try to restrain Trump’s worst instincts. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and former national security adviser HR McMaster had to reel Trump back from his suggestion that the U.S. assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Officials within the administration are going so far as to internally thwart government operations, which has been corroborated both in an anonymous op-ed published in the New York Times by a senior official, as well as respected journalist Bob Woodward’s recent book.
But when officials aren’t around, Trump has proven to be brazen and irresponsible. In a meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Trump gave Russia highly sensitive Israeli intelligence on ISIS, compromising critical intelligence-sharing relationships around the globe. When Trump announces policies on-the-fly, officials are forced to walk them back. In other words, the internal workings of government are stymied by Trump’s sporadic and uninformed approach to governing.
This catastrophic dysfunction is, as far as we can tell, completely unprecedented.
Second, President Trump compulsively lies. When I say “lies,” I mean something far more damning than when politicians fudge figures and dodge tough questions. Instead, Trump shamelessly denies the existence of physical evidence presented against him, like the size of his inauguration crowd and whether or not he knows who David Duke is. Trump invents stories, facts and figures to convince the public of his point of view, like falsifying GDP data and claiming that Muslims cheered on rooftops after the Twin Towers fell.
Don’t take my word for it. Trump himself has admitted to his habitual tendency to misrepresent the truth in depositions, his own books and public speeches. It is impossible to hold accountable a president who disagrees with reality.
Not only does Trump lie, but he has also incited distrust towards mechanisms that hold him accountable for it. He calls the press the “enemy of the people,” and represents his account of events as a form of “alternative facts.” A sitting president viciously attacking a key pillar of democracy is not just irresponsible — it is a democratic crisis.
Lastly, Trump is mired in irredeemable scandal. As of this piece, Trump’s own lawyer, Campaign Chairman, Deputy Campaign Chairman, National Security Adviser and Foreign Policy Adviser have all been charged with felonies. In one of those instances, Trump himself was directly implicated in campaign finance crimes.
The importance of this is not that Trump himself is necessarily a criminal. That remains to be seen. But a president surrounded by corruption and cronyism cannot command the trust of a nation.
To recap: we have a sitting president who lacks the trust of his own government, lies to the public relentlessly and without remorse and is unable to reliably carry out the spirit of the presidency. In short, President Donald Trump has become an illegitimate leader. It is the duty of the American people to set aside their ideological preferences and demand a mechanism to remove him from office. For the sake of a healthy and functioning democracy, we must demand impeachment.