Incentives for not being impeached

      4 Comments on Incentives for not being impeached

So. YHB hasn’t been in this Tohu Bohu recently—the world is not at the moment such a place that I want to write about it—but I find myself today wanted to say a thing about impeachment. Yesterday morning, Our Only President released a Presidential Statement that began this way:

So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.

This seems to me exactly correct.

Before I go on… yes, that wasn’t the newsworthy offensive thing in the tweet. Nor is it surprising, in October of the third year of this Administration, for Our Only President to brag about his ignorance of the Constitution or about any aspect of the normal running of our federal government. I am not coming back here to rant about the man’s obvious incompetence, ignorance, corruption, rapine, personal unpleasantness or inhumanity. I am reminded constantly of the line in Berthold Brecht’s poem “An die Nachgeborenen” Dabei wissen wir doch:/Auch der Hass gegen die Niedrigkeit/Verzerrt die Züge, and yet we knew:/even the hatred of squalor/distorts the features. I can feel my features distorted by my anger and hate far too often, and I don’t really want that concentrated here on the blog.

Anyway, what I do want to say is that of course there should not be any procedural impediment to the House of Representatives impeaching a President on purely partisan grounds or on no grounds at all. Aside from the Constitutional mandate, which is explicit, the whole philosophy behind our Madisonian structure is against any such impediment. The only thing keeping the House from impeaching the President at any moment should be politics. There are arguments for (and against) having the Senate compelled to follow procedures in addition to politics in removal. But the House is precisely the place where a purely politically motivated attempt to remove the President should be.

Members of the House should be worried about the political repercussions of specious impeachment. If the President is popular, they should be absolutely against impeachment; if the President is popular and criminal, they should be concerned first with convincing the people of his crimes and thus pricking the bubble of popularity. The political consequences of impeaching a popular President on specious grounds should be substantial, and it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be. The political consequences of impeaching an unpopular President shouldn’t be that great, and aren’t.

If we wound up with a norm that every House whose majority was in the other Party from the President would begin impeachment inquiries… that would be fine. Honestly, why wouldn’t it? Every impeachment process in the past has happened alongside reasonably productive legislatures. I would be outraged every time it happened to a President of my Party, which is correct and so what. And it would rarely get to a vote in the House, and if it did, it would be quickly dismissed in the Senate—unless either (a) the President had committed enough criminal or disgraceful acts to compel reaction, or (2) the President had grown so unpopular in his own Party that the Senators were looking for an opportunity to turf the bastard. And in either case, it seems difficult to defend leaving the President in office.

The result, it seems to me, would be that Presidents would take office knowing that they could be yeeted (as the youths probably no longer say) any time their Party loses confidence in them. So a President would have every incentive to work with the legislature (to be completely safe, working with both Parties) and to maximize and maintain broad national popularity, and to avoid being implicated in criminal and/or disgraceful behavior.

That seems like an outcome well in line with the whole Madisonian notion of democracy, doesn’t it?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

4 thoughts on “Incentives for not being impeached

  1. irilyth

    Another thing about this is that it’s not like Democrats impeaching Trump will somehow be good for Democrats. We get Mike Fucking Pence, who would presumably continue all of the awful policies that Trump has been carrying out, except less boorishly and possibly more effectively and probably more misogynistically and homophbically. (The one except is a recent one: Pence probably wouldn’t have massacred the Kurds, and he might try to salvage that situation somehow if he could.)

    In any case: It’s not like impeaching a President of one party is going to get you a President of the other party, in basically any circumstance.

  2. Chris Cobb

    It’s not like impeaching a President of one party is going to get you a President of the other party, in basically any circumstance

    True in practice, but not true for the federal government as originally designed under the Constitution. If, as originally intended, the Vice President were the second-place finisher in the Presidential election with no tie of party to the President, then impeachment and removal of the President would tend to produce a policy shift.

    I might look back and say that it could have been better had the Founders decided to abolish the Electoral College when the advent of parties first highlighted its inadequacies as an election mechanism, instead of instituting the 12th Amendment workaround as they did. This change would have moved the Vice President position in the direction of the head of a Shadow Cabinet in the British system, which might have made the Office of the President less stable and more liable to impeachment if the President’s party suffered heavy losses at midterms, but it would have had the virtue of eliminating from our history presidents who lost the popular vote but won the electoral college.

    If Pence would discontinue the practice of the current occupant of corrupting American elections by soliciting foreign assistance in smearing his opponents, that would be a significant benefit for Democrats as well as for the continuance of a democratic form of government. It appears that Pence has assisted the current occupant in his criminal conspiracy, but it’s not clear that he would have initiated such a conspiracy on his own or that he would seek to perpetuate this one. If the impeachment of the current occupant for abuse of power on these grounds leads to his removal from office, presumably Pence would be at risk if he were actively complicit or were to attempt the same thing himself.

  3. irilyth

    All good points. Mostly I continue to want to focus on voting these crooks out of office, and destroying their irredeemably corrupt party, rather than removing one or two of the worst offenders from office. (Mitch McConnell, for example, isn’t going to get impeached, and is arguably the worst of them.)

  4. Vardibidian Post author

    My point, really, is that fear of impeachment should be a motivator for the President to behave in a way that protects him politically from impeachment.

    Here’s the thing: one Party cannot remove the President from power—it takes a supermajority in the Senate that is nearly unachievable for one Party. It would take (has taken) the President’s own Party to split against him in order to remove him. If that were going to remove that Party’s power altogether, their incentive would be to stick with a corrupt or incompetent President rather than turn the office over to the other Party. The system we have guards against the President betraying the country for his own personal benefit, or at the behest of a foreign power, or out of incompetence, or spite, or really any other reason. It doesn’t, and shouldn’t, guard against a President carrying out the appalling policies of a Party that supports them and is in turn supported by a large minority or even a majority of the population.

    I dislike Mike Pence, and I think he would be a very bad President, because I believe that the policies he supports are very bad policies. I would vastly have preferred that so many people had not voted for him and for other people who support those policies. But there’s a huge difference, to me and I think to the future of the country, between a President who supports policies I oppose and a President who betrays his trust. There’s a difference between a President who is complicit in the slow ongoing erosion of the ideal of democratic, participatory self-government and a President who demands personal loyalty and denies the legitimacy of any institution of government that refuses to put loyalty to him ahead of itself.



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