After James Comey was fired, the “I” word has been thrown around DC like a football, and the administration has been slow in its attempts to tackle the charging imbroglio. As a result, 43 percent of Americans think Congress should start the impeachment process. Thankfully, for the administration, the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller has provided some breathing room.
Isn’t that strange to think about? Most people probably never imagined a special prosecutor would be involved in this situation. But it’s happening, and in case people need a reminder after the Clinton email debacle, an FBI investigation means something. As patriots, we need to take this issue seriously.
So, as the Russia circus cools down for a while, I think there are several questions everyone—especially my fellow Republicans—should ask themselves. I’ve included my own thoughts in response to each one.
1. Do I care about truth enough to see the substance beyond the spin?
I don’t ask this to be condescending, but research indicates the answer is probably “no.” People like hearing views they agree with and detest hearing views they disagree with. Is it any wonder that conservatives overwhelmingly watch Fox News and liberals watch MSNBC? Sticking to our intellectual silos prevents us from actually searching for truth. That is why it’s important to answer this question for ourselves.
2. What is impeachment for?
To the left, impeachment would be a poetic repudiation of the Trump agenda. But what actions justify impeachment?
One framework for understanding impeachment that makes sense to me is that of former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy. In 2014, he argued that President Obama deserved to be impeached for his “pen and phone” executive action on immigration. But he wasn’t naïve enough to think it would actually happen. That’s because impeachment is a political tool, not a legal one.
In other words, impeachment isn’t a plug-and-chug formula to oust Presidents when they break the law, it’s a tool available to Congress to make sure the President faithfully executes his duty to protect the constitution. And it only works if enough people are convinced it’s worth it.
According to the constitution, impeachment is only meant to remove a president who has committed treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors. Currently, most of the impeachment talks have centered around the last term, which McCarthy defines as:
“[A] term of art for abuses of power that violate the president’s fiduciary obligations to the American people he serves, the constitutional system he takes an oath to preserve, and the laws whose faithful execution is his core duty.”
As new information comes to light,it is worth asking whether any of President’s Trump’s actions fit McCarthy’s prescribed understanding of the purpose of impeachment.
3. In Trump’s case, is talk of impeachment premature?
If impeachment is political, then how can talking about it be premature? Of course it’s not, especially in our age of polarization. The fact is, the left has been searching for an excuse for impeachment since day one.
Politics aside, the possibility of impeachment rests on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice—and that is a claim that is still on shaky ground. Special counsel Robert Mueller will perhaps find definitive answers, but the heart of matter is whether people really care about the consequences.
4. Who can I trust?
A common refrain among those on the right is that the whole Russia scandal is being driven by the overwhelmingly liberal “fake-news” media that vehemently opposes Trump. This is an untenable position. It’s true that every mainstream news channel, with the exception of Fox, has a liberal slant. But if their bias would motivate them to fabricate stories out of thin air, how does one explain their good coverage?
When Trump gave a moving and dignified speech to Congress, even his opposition on CNN lauded him. When Trump responded Assad’s chemical attacks with tomahawk missiles, Brian Williams called it beautiful and Fareed Zakaria nearly swooned. When Neil Gorsuch was confirmed, the coverage was also positive.
In each case, the tide only turned when Trump began tweeting
Republicans should take away the following lesson: For Trump, good things mean good coverage, and bad things mean exceedingly bad coverage. Yes, the media has a liberal bias, but most mainstream journalists try to be objective in their reporting. (Although not always in their selection of what to report)
Given this paradigm, I urge my fellow Republicans, please, be skeptical, but don’t abandon reason. I’m not saying Trump should be impeached, I’m saying that we need to use our heads. An FBI investigation is a big deal, and there are answers that still need to be found.
Whatever happens, Republicans must realize that there are certain institutional values that are at stake. Let’s say it turns out that Trump and his campaign did everything partisans are accusing them of. Would impeachment have been appropriate if Obama had done the same? If so, then perhaps Republicans should start thinking about how much they would lose if Pence were to become President.
The cycle of partisan hypocrisy that plagues Washington only ends when we put the shoe on the other foot and hold our party to the same standards we expect of our opponents to adhere to.