President Trump is Everything Many of His Detractors Say He Is: Why, Still, He Should Not Be Impeached
By Ken K. Gourdin
At times and at turns, Mr. Trump has been uncouth, unrefined, boorish, loutish, inarticulate, inartful, indelicate, impolite, impolitic, brash, a womanizer, sexist, racist, homophobic, has used language that (at best) has been politically incorrect and that has been (at worst) outright discriminatory, has attacked women, minorities, gays and lesbians, the disabled (of whom, by the way, for what it’s worth, I am one), and so on and so forth, ad infinitum and perhaps ad nauseam. But, with respect to President Trump, none of the things I mentioned above, whether taken individually or in any combination, rise to the level of impeachment.
There was a sort of gentleman’s agreement (and, while I refuse to admit that I’m sexist in employing the term, back then, given the infrequency with which women were employed in the media and the fact that, as yet, the United States has not elected a woman president, it really was a gentleman’s agreement) that the media would overlook any presidential flaws, foibles, and pecadillos in favor of covering substantive policies and measures and the results to which they led.
Intervening history has done much to uncover the personal missteps of several U.S. presidents, including (but of course not necessarily limited to) FDR, JFK, Johnson, and Nixon—missteps that, in many cases, were barely covered (if, indeed, they were covered at all) by the media at the time. In at least some cases, the media’s relationship with the presidency today is much less symbiotic—dare I say sycophantic?—than it once was. Arguably, the chief difference between President Trump and his White House predecessors is that his shortcomings are so much more visible.
Indeed, as recently as the 1990s, it could be argued (while women had done much to shatter the media’s glass ceiling in the interim) that the agreement remained in place between former President William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton and the Democrat-leaning media. (Ironically, arguably, one of the few woman candidates with a serious shot at shattering the U.S. presidency’s gender glass ceiling aided and abetted her husband’s blatant philandering in office by insisting it was a non-story and by doing her best to smear her husband’s accusers.)
President Clinton’s defenders, while (at least in some cases) conceding he lied, insisted that the lies were inconsequential because they were “only about sex.” Ironically, President Clinton’s lies, while not considered serious enough to remove him from office after he was impeached, were considered serious enough to have him disbarred. A reasonable person might wonder, why the double-standard?
It’s as though Democrats have decided, “Mr. Trump is so bad that we don’t have to run a strong candidate whose ideas are capable of unifying at least enough people across the political spectrum to elevate our candidate to national office! Trump is so bad that anyone else should do!” But that’s not the way the game is played.
Politically, Mr. Trump—even without political science or law degrees from the nation’s leading universities—is shrewd enough that he understands intuitively the idea put forth in the preceding paragraph. (Perhaps that’s part of his greatest sin: He’s not part of the political establishment.) Intuitively, Mr. Trump knows that he doesn’t have to be better than anyone his opposition could pick: He simply has to be better than the one person it does pick. And—wittingly or not—his opposition seems determined to play into his hands and to test that theory by selecting its worst candidate from a lot of bad candidates.
The potential damage done to our political and electoral processes, to our sociopolitical discourse, and to American society at large by adopting a “by-any-means-necessary” approach to removing Mr. Trump from office is far greater than any damage done if Mr. Trump is allowed to complete his first term in office—and even if the American people decide that the alternatives are so unpalatable that he should be allowed to serve a second.
Yes, for good reason, in some ways, impeachment is more of a political process than it is a legal one. However, even granting that proposition is insufficient reason to lay aside, in their entirety, legal niceties. If one is charged with a crime, the conduct a statute criminalizes should be sufficiently definite to place those subject to the statute on notice of what specific conduct is prohibited. While impeachable conduct need not be criminal, and while the standard elucidated in the Constitution for impeachment, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is (by design) somewhat nebulous, it is not as infinitely flexible as Democrats wish, particularly not in light of potentially-impeachable conduct by past presidents to which Democrats never even so much as raised an eyebrow.
Obstruction of Congress? Arguably, in designing the Constitution and the government to which it led in the way they did, the Framers intended for Congress to be obstructed. Certainly, that might mean that an occasional good idea emanating from Congress here and there might be frustrated. But perhaps the Framers’ intent respecting Congress was that it’s better for an occasional good idea to be obstructed than it would be for a thousand bad ones to be implemented. Impeachment of President Trump, even with all his faults, is one of the latter rather than one of the former.
And abuse of power? As though, again, President Trump (conceding his missteps for the sake of this discussion) were the first president ever to have engaged in such a thing? If we’re not going to impeach a President Clinton—whose lies (not to put too fine a point on it, but his perjury), remember, were considered serious enough for him to be disbarred and who abused the power of his presidency to cover them up—then, if we’re consistent, we shouldn’t impeach a President Trump.
Update, January 16, 2019: Former Representative Chris Cannon (R – Utah) was one of the House managers during the Clinton impeachment trial. As a House manager, he was responsible, along with other managers, for presenting the case against President Clinton as it was tried in the Senate.
He seems to agree with me about the nebulousness of the impeachment articles against President Trump. Forget the presidents whose personal pecadillos have come to light since they served in office. Rep. Cannon says that any U.S. president in our history (including those whom history classes as our greatest presidents) could be found guilty under the nebulous articles which the House passed against President Trump. In a January 15 story, the Deseret News’ Matthew Brown quotes former Rep. Cannon, who says, “Neither one of those articles of impeachment has any substance. In other words, if you retroactively enforce those two articles on every single president, including George Washington, they would have been evicted from office[.]” See the News’ coverage here (last accessed today): https://www.deseret.com/indepth/2020/1/15/21066119/cannon-impeachment-manager-senate-trial-trump-clinton.