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,