Democrats everywhere are dreaming of President Donald Trump’s impeachment. It’s only a matter of time, they say, until the corruption catches up to him and the House and Senate stand together to terminate this national nightmare. For most of them, it’s merely a question of when, not if.
A recent piece in The New Yorker, a publication as fervently anti-Trump as any mainstream news outlet, is dedicated to this possibility, exploring the myriad ways Trump’s first term could be cut short.
“Trump’s critics are actively exploring the path to impeachment or the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which allows for the replacement of a president who is judged to be mentally unfit,” Evan Osnos writes.
Undoubtedly, Trump’s failure to divest from his business ventures, his possible violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause – a ban on presidents accepting gifts from foreign states – and his sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey all demonstrate he has a gross disregard for ethics. An independent investigation – whether helmed by newly named Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller or an independent commission – must air all the facts about his contact with the Russian government.
Whether Trump survives four years will ultimately come down to the composition of the House and Senate. If Democrats can defy long odds and retake the House in 2018, they can begin impeachment proceedings and, armed with subpoena power, can make Trump’s life very difficult. Republicans know next year’s midterm elections could be particularly disastrous.
Yet the Democratic obsession with deposing Trump obscures several uncomfortable truths. For one, Trump’s vice president is Mike Pence, who, if Trump were successfully impeached and forced out of office, would be the most unabashedly right-wing president of the last half-century, if not longer. He’s a man far more committed to realizing the Koch brothers’ Hobbesian, ultra-capitalist dystopia than Trump, who is a leader without a fixed ideology beyond allegiance to his own ego.
How bad do you want this? (Fred Watkins / ABC via Getty Images)
As much as the left decries Trump’s attempts to end democracy as we know it, a Pence presidency represents something far more dangerous. This isn’t immediately obvious because Trump is, for a large swath of America, a terrifying president and a mercurial bully with the Twitter feed fit for the WWE personality he once was. He is a rash and extremely erratic man now blessed with vast and dizzying powers. He does not read; he does not learn. Other than shedding the veneer of liberal thought he adopted for his days as a New York socialite, very little about his personality has changed in the past 40 years.
As much as the left decries Trump’s attempts to end democracy as we know it, a Pence presidency represents something far more dangerous.
Many media talking heads and Democrats, however, appear to be more concerned with Trump’s style than his substance. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last month that she “never thought (she’d) pray for the day” George W. Bush was president again. CBS News’ “Face the Nation” moderator John Dickerson recently lamented the “coarseness” coming from the White House, and the ways Tom Perez, a Democratic National Committee chairman unafraid of foul language, is encouraging a race to the bottom. Bemoaning how Trump is not presidential has become something of a cottage industry.
The subtext here is that the establishment left and mainstream media, each cloistered in their affluent urban enclaves, would tolerate Trump a lot more if he just started acting like the president from “The West Wing.” If only he had the sophistication of Barack Obama, the grandfatherly mien of Ronald Reagan, or the down-home sunniness of Jimmy Carter. If only he showed up at the White House Correspondents’ dinner and stopped saying mean things about the media on Twitter. If only he was cool, calm and collected, projecting the image of a leader that an educated American, prancing through Europe on holiday, could be proud of.
(Shealah Craighead / White House)
Pence, the potential 46th president, would punish progressives with more competence and gravitas. A former congressman and governor with a lifetime’s worth of relationships on Capitol Hill wouldn’t struggle so mightily to rewrite the tax code and eviscerate Obamacare. He wouldn’t let a budget go by without slashing and burning Planned Parenthood because he’s a man of God who knows how to work the levers of government to screw over women. He wouldn’t hesitate to launch a war in Syria because he’s not an isolationist paleocon – he’s the good Republican foot soldier who proudly cheered on Bush’s Iraq War.
The subtext here is that the establishment left and mainstream media would tolerate Trump a lot more if he just started acting like the president from “The West Wing.”
Speaking of Bush, it’s amusing that Pelosi is suddenly nostalgic for those eight years that inflicted far more damage on the country and world than Trump could hope to match, barring a nuclear showdown with North Korea. As of today, there is more blood on the hands of Bush and every politician who voted for the Iraq War than Trump’s – and that includes his vanquished opponent and hero of the so-called resistance, Hillary Clinton. The toll is still staggering to comprehend: hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,000 U.S. troops dead; the entire Middle East in flames, with ISIS as Bush’s sinister parting gift to the world and the ensuing global chaos will likely characterize much of the 21st century.
The fundamental weakness of the establishment left – the Democratic Party and its many pundits and operatives scattered across the media and in various consulting and lobbying shops – is laid bare with every lamentation of Trump’s uncouthness. Bush built a surveillance state and a military machine designed to ensure the U.S. remains permanently at war. Democrats enabled and encouraged this state of affairs under Obama because he was their executive. As long as he was launching drone strikes with a smile, all was good in Washington.
Would it be better for Democrats if a seemingly sober, clean-cut Republican blocked Muslims from entering this country or did his best to destroy the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency? Would they sleep better at night if President Ted Cruz or President Marco Rubio fought hard to privatize Medicaid and Social Security, obliterating whatever is left of the New Deal consensus? Eventually, Trump will no longer be president and American democracy, despite all the wailing to the contrary, will have persisted. What form it takes under the next Democratic president will tell us whether the Trump years taught us anything.
Ross Barkan writes a monthly column on the Trump administration for City & State. His work has appeared in the New York Observer, Village Voice, The Daily Beast, Salon and Harvard Review.