A panoply of leftist pundits and mainstream media mouthpieces (but I repeat myself) have taken to calling, in recent days, for President Trump’s impeachment due to the latest purported scandal in which the president has found himself embroiled: Ukraine-gate.
Holding aside any discussion of what may or may not have actually transpired on the underlying phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, two things are true here at once. As the inestimable Angelo Codevilla properly noted last week at American Greatness: “The president’s authority over national security information is more than broad. It is total. All who exercise such authority do so on his behalf and by his leave.” Constitutional law scholars refer to this as “unitary executive theory,” and the fact that all of the executive branch’s constitutional power sits with the president himself flows directly from the plain text of the Article II Vesting Clause itself: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.” At the same time, impeachment in the American constitutional system is a political, and not criminal, remedy. As Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist No. 65, impeachment of a president may be properly considered for all “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
In other words, the worst case scenario — and again, we do not have the information yet to make this determination — is that Trump’s phone call fit the description of one of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s favorite phrases: “Stupid but constitutional.” And yet, if House Democrats nonetheless feel that Trump’s conduct “abuse[d] or violat[ed] … some public trust,” that conduct should be considered, in the Hamiltonian exegesis of the Constitution’s “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” impeachment criterion, for possible impeachment.
But the key word there is “considered” — every “abuse or violation of some public trust” obviously does not have affixed to it a self-executing impeachment remedy. Rather, political actors are tasked with exercising prudence and deciding whether or not to proceed with the filing of articles of impeachment based upon that careful consideration. Alas, our politics these days suffers from a severe deficiency of prudence, and the increasingly insatiable desire of the Left and mainstream media to shout “impeachment!” every time a Republican luminary so much as flatulates is beginning to cause pernicious wounds to our social fabric.
The latest calls for Trump’s impeachment are not only premature — they also threaten to exacerbate the already well-worn Democratic Party playbook of gussied up impeachment allegations based on hugely embellished and/or distorted underlying conduct. But even worse for the sanity of our public discourse, the latest cries for Trump’s impeachment directly follow recent leftists calls to impeach U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh based on conduct that allegedly transpired decades ago — and which federal authorities investigated and dismissed one year ago during the absolute nightmare that was Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. The Left and the mainstream media are doing their best to so sully the term “impeachment” so as to strip it of any cognizable meaning.
Good-faith observers of our politics ought to wait for all facts to emerge about Ukraine-gate. But conservatives ought to be afforded more than a small degree of skepticism about the Left’s motives here. After all, as Ethics & Public Policy Center scholar Henry Olsen observed earlier this month in The Washington Post, Democrats have been engaged in an ongoing, systemic attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election ever since that election was decided:
Since [the early 1800s], our unwritten code has prevented impeachment from being used as a means to undo a lost election.
It is difficult to avoid the impression that this is what really drives Democratic desire to impeach Kavanaugh and President Trump. Polls show that 65% of Clinton voters backed impeaching Trump only days after his inauguration. That figure rose to 83% by early February 2017. Similarly, polls from 2018 show that Democrats deeply opposed Kavanaugh’s nomination well before any allegation of sexual impropriety was levied. Polls also show that support of opposition for Kavanaugh completely colored how one viewed the subsequent allegations, with opponents believing them and supporters rejecting them. It’s clear what’s going on: Differences in political opinion are causing Democratic voters to support any means necessary to defeat their opponents.
Olsen’s observations about the use of the impeachment tool throughout our constitutional history thus brings us to what may appear to some as a paradox: Impeachment is an inherently political remedy, but it has never been used for overtly partisan purposes. But in reality, there is no contradiction — indeed, there is no paradox at all.
The Constitution’s Framers merely expected our citizen-legislators in Congress to not be partisan hacks and to be able to exercise some degree of prudence in political judgment. They did not anticipate that such a rudimentary expectation might one day prove fanciful. Alas, today, that prudence in such woefully short supply — a short supply that threatens to tear our once-united republic even further asunder every time a leftist prematurely or unconvincingly yells “impeachment!”