Business Standard

The anxiety of a Trump impeachment

There is so much emotional investment in Trump's removal that people don't realise it's a long shot

Illustration by Ajay Mohanty

Illustration by Ajay Mohanty

Charles M Blow
Last week, in highly anticipated Senate testimony, fired FBI Director James Comey delivered a stinging rebuke and strong indictment of President Donald Trump as an abuser of power, twister of arms and, above all, a spewer of lies.

No fewer than five times did Mr Comey accuse Mr Trump of lying.

The White House’s response as issued from the mouth of spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I can definitely say the president is not a liar, and I think it’s, frankly, insulting that question would be asked.”

No, you saying he’s not a liar is a lie, and it is the American people who are insulted.

Mr Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning, writing: “Despite so many false statements and lies, total and complete vindication ... and WOW, Comey is a leaker!”

That too was a lie.

During a Rose Garden press conference Friday afternoon with the president of Romania, Mr Trump answered the question of why he felt “complete vindication” by speaking in a hodgepodge of hashtags: “No collusion, no obstruction, he’s a leaker.”

If America is confronted with a he-said, he-said stand-off between Mr Trump and Mr Comey, the former having a documented history as a pathological liar and the latter not, who one grants the benefit of the doubt to is easily answered: Mr Comey.

And yet, there was something many seemed to find unsatisfying about Mr Comey’s testimony: There was no knockout blow. It wasn’t the penultimate moment that guaranteed impeachment, but rather just another moment in what will likely be a plodding inquiry.

This becomes the critical and increasingly urgent question for many: Will Mr Trump be impeached – or indicted – and when? The anticipation has produced a throbbing anxiety. There is so much emotional investment in Mr Trump’s removal that I fear that it blinds people to the fact that it is a long shot and, in any case, a long way off.

As Adam Liptak wrote last month in The New York Times, about special counsel Robert S Mueller’s investigation: “Would the Constitution allow Mr Mueller to indict Mr Trump if he finds evidence of criminal conduct? The prevailing view among most legal experts is no. They say the president is immune from prosecution so long as he is in office.”

As to the point of impeachment, the founders made this difficult on purpose.

Only two American presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – have ever been impeached by the House of Representatives. The Senate refused to convict in both cases, and both men remained in office.

Richard Nixon may well have been impeached, but resigned before the House could vote on his articles of impeachment.

Yes, there is a first time for everything, and this may well be the first time that a president is impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, or that a president is successfully indicted, but think hard about how remote that possibility is.

At this moment both the House and Senate are led by Republicans who show no inclination to hold Mr Trump accountable and who in fact are now making excuses for his aberrant behaviour.

Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan excused Mr Trump’s highly inappropriate contacts with Mr Comey, making the silly argument that Mr Trump is “just new to this.”

Republican Senator Susan Collins on Friday engaged in the outlandish speculation that Mr Comey had set the precedent for one-on-one meetings with Mr Trump when Mr Comey pulled Mr Trump aside to discuss the salacious “pee-tape” dossier.

Sorry folks, ignorance – even the towering ignorance of Mr Trump – is no excuse.

A damning report from Robert Mueller could change Republican reticence, but such a report is likely quite far off. (Fifteen months passed from the time a special prosecutor was appointed in the Watergate investigation and the time Nixon resigned.)

Unfortunately, American expectations are tuned to a Netflix sensibility in which we want to binge a complete season in a single sitting. A proper investigation will not indulge our impatience.

The best bet is for Democrats to win a majority in the House in 2018, which is possible and maybe even likely, but winning a majority in the Senate that year is a much steeper climb — not impossible, but improbable.

Illustration by Ajay Mohanty
Illustration by Ajay Mohanty
I know well that the very real obstacles to removal injures the psyche of those worn thin by the relentless onslaught of awfulness erupting from this White House. I know well that impeachment is one of the only rays of hope cutting through these dark times. I’m with you; I too crave some form of political comeuppance.

But, I believe that it’s important to face the very real possibility that removal may not come, and if it does, it won’t come swiftly. And even a Trump impeachment would leave America with a President Mike Pence, a nightmare of a different stripe but no less a nightmare.

In the end, the Resistance must be bigger than impeachment; it must be about political realignment. It must be built upon solid rock of principle and not hang solely on the slender hope of expulsion. This is a long game and will not come to an abrupt conclusion. Perseverance must be the precept; lifelong commitment must be the motto.

© The New York Times, 2017

Disclaimer: These are personal views of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or the Business Standard newspaper

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First Published: Jun 12 2017 | 10:43 PM IST

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