The Constitution limits impeachment to “treason, bribery, or other crimes and misdemeanors”. Both houses in Congress have historically given “high crimes and misdemeanors” a broad reading so that impeachable offenses are not limited to criminal conduct. Some have argued that impeachment is defined vaguely in the Constitution because it is the responsibility of Congress to judge whether Presidential actions are a threat to the nation.
The current impeachment process is sharply divided along party lines. This partisan behavior is part of a pattern that increasingly threatens the well-being of the nation. Perhaps it’s time to shake things up a bit by introducing a third political party. I recommend the Integrity Party. But that’s a subject for another day. Today the question is: have Trump’s failures in his office been of sufficient magnitude to justify his removal?
The impeachment set in motion by the Democratic House focuses on Trump’s act of extortion directed at Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine. Numerous individuals have testified that Trump withheld $400 million of military aid, hoping to pressure Zelensky into a public investigation of business activities by Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden. Eventually Trump released the funds but only after holding them up for more than two months and only then after three separate committees in the House launched investigations into the matter.
It’s clear that Trump’s actions endangered an American ally, which was and remains under extreme pressure from Russia. If the Bidens were involved in illegal or inappropriate actions, the President has the right to call for proper investigations, but there was nothing proper about Trump’s approach to Zelensky, particularly since Zelensky was desperate for U.S. aid. Trump’s obvious vested interest in the matter would have been enough for any sensible person to steer clear of the temptation to withhold aid. Furthermore, any President who took his oath of office seriously would never put an ally at risk for the sake of personal political gain.
There is no room to excuse his action as naïveté or error. Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and then National Security Advisor, John Bolton all advised Trump against withholding the funds. Trump’s withholding of military aid from Ukraine does qualify as an impeachable offense on the basis of the serious abuse of Presidential power.
The Ukraine action is enough in itself to remove Trump from office. But it is far from the only reason he should be removed. Trump does not occasionally make international errors—they are his signature. He has alienated and insulted European allies for not spending enough on military defense. At the same time, he is raiding the U.S. defense budget to build a wall at the Mexican border, even as he knows the wall will have little impact on illegal immigration. Instead of working with Mexico to stabilize it as a nation, thus reducing the desire of Mexicans to leave, he has continued to allow American gun manufacturers to flood the country with guns, supplying the powerful drug cartels there. Mexico is no longer a safe place for Americans to travel, and the U.S. is failing to help Mexicans make it a safe place for Mexicans to live.
He pulled out of the nuclear treaty with Iran, opening the door for that country to resume its development of nuclear weaponry. He pulled troops back from Syria, abandoning Syrian rebels to the ruthless Bashar al-Assad. Then he pulled the troops back again, exposing the Kurds to advancing Turks. The abandonment of the Kurds was particularly galling since the Kurds have born much of the pain of the fight against ISIS. This betrayal of the Kurds opens the door for an ISIS revival.
His latest gambit was the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani. Trump first justified the action by saying that Suleimani was involved in imminent attacks against the United States. When pressed for evidence, the story changed to the argument that Suleimani deserved to die for his history of involvement in the deaths of many Americans. (There is no debate about Suleimani’s material support for various military proxies against the U.S. and Israel. He was an agent of unrest and destruction.) Nevertheless, the assassination order by Trump came as a surprise even to his own military advisors. Was this a wise tactical decision, or was it more about Trump’s interest in getting his impeachment off the front page?
Our current President is a master of propaganda. He rarely apologizes, and when he does, the apology is followed by an excuse and an attack. He also constantly employs distraction. If something comes to the fore that he doesn’t like, he will work to change the subject. Usually he accomplishes the shift through something dramatic. Trump’s tweets tend to be outrageous, but this is not because he is stupid; it is usually because he is trying to divert attention from something else. The whole country is succumbing to Donald-tweet-fatigue. It’s just too hard to generate anger every day over something new. Most Americans are completely baffled about how we let this juvenile bully become Chief Executive.
The problem that worries me most about Trump is his inability to listen to his own staff. The turnover rate of Trump appointees is unprecedented. Below is a list of most of the high-ranking officials who have left the White House during Trump’s 3 years as President.
Reince Priebus: White House Chief of Staff
John F. Kelly: White House Chief of Staff
Joe Hagin: White House Deputy Chief of Staff – Operations
Rick Dearborn: White House Deputy Chief of Staff – Policy
Steve Bannon: White House Chief Strategist
Johnny DeStefano: Counselor to the President
Diana Powell: Sr. Counselor to the President
Bill McGinley: White House Cabinet Secretary
Carl Ichan: Special Advisor to the President on Regulatory Reform
Reed Cordish: Assistant to the President
Michael Flynn: National Security Advisor
H.R. McMaster: National Security Advisor
John Bolton: National Security Advisor
Keith Kellogg: National Security Advisor
Fred Fleitz: Executive Secretary of the National Security Council
Fiona Hill: Sr. Director for European and Russian Affairs of the National Security Council
TimMorrison: Director for European and Russian Affairs of the National Security Council
Derek Harvey: Sr. Director for Middle East and North African Affairs of the National Security Council
Madeleine Westerhout: Director of Oval Office Operations
Keith Schiller: Director of Oval Office Operations
Sean Spicer: White House Press Secretary
Michael Dubke: White House Director of Communications
Anthony Scaramucci: White House Director of Communications
Hope Hicks: White House Director of Communications
Everett Eissenstat: Deputy Director of the National Economic Council
Peter Navarro: Director of the National Trade Council
John M. Dowd: Personal Attorney for President Trump
Chris Christie: Chair of the Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission
This problem, seemingly an extension of Trump’s training in the “reality” TV show, The Apprentice, is indicative of a severe personality disorder. Trump cannot work with others. This would be fine if he were managing his own business. Let it succeed; let it fail. (Both have happened to him many times.) But this is not fine when he is the President of the United States, whose primary concern should be the welfare of the citizens of the United States. How can he perform his job if he is constantly tossing away the experts whose jobs are to guide and support him? The effect and pattern has been Executive actions driven by impulse rather than consideration for the impacts and repercussions of decisions.
I have frequently read that Trump is supported by Evangelicals. Perhaps it’s so. I don’t know. What can I know except for what comes out of the media? I know that Mark Galli, Editor of Christianity Today, probably the most well known Evangelical magazine in the country, called for Trump’s removal from office. I know that I am an Evangelical and I would have voted for all of the other Presidential candidates before I would have voted for Trump. Well, that’s not exactly accurate. Even if all the other candidates died I still wouldn’t have voted for Trump. I think you could spin a bottle on Market Street and come up with a better President. Really. Of all the people I’ve known in my life, and I’ve known a few doozies, Donald Trump is the least qualified to serve as President.
Why, then, are Evangelicals attracted to him? There certainly is a resistance within Evangelicalism against the kudzu liberalism that is slowly overtaking the United States. Both liberals and conservatives need to come to grips with the difference between tolerance and fair treatment on the one hand, verses acceptance and promotion on the other. Conservatives need to embrace tolerance, while liberals need to understand that tolerance does not equal endorsement or acceptance. Separation of Church and State applies as much to liberal ideology as it does any other religion.
There is also economic fear in the U.S. It’s not hard to find menial jobs that pay poorly. And it’s not hard to get a good-paying job if you have the support system that gets you through college without a mountain of debt. But there is a growing middle class that’s drifting into the lower middle class. Automation is killing manufacturing, as well as agriculture, as far as employment is concerned. This very real fear is causing many people to look backward to better financial days. Social liberalism is encroaching hand in hand with the negative financial drift. Is there a causal connection between these two? To a great extent, I think the answer is no. Nevertheless, those with conservative leanings tend to make a connection, consciously or unconsciously. Trump has presented himself as the defender of the working class but, of course, he was educated in the Ivy League and is rooted in New York City. Trump has taken no actions to make significant changes on Wall Street, in American manufacturing, in protecting farms, or in providing medical reform. This appeal to the middle class has been pure hucksterism.
The other major issue for Evangelicals is abortion. On this issue I am in whole-hearted agreement. Abortion is a great evil. It is the most serious evil being committed in the United States and in the world today. Trump has clearly weighed in against abortion and has been instrumental in pushing the Supreme Court to the right. I am thankful for his position on abortion, as are most Evangelicals.
I am about 179° to the right on this issue. Nevertheless, there must be caution against single issue decision-making. Abortion is important because the lives of the most helpless are at stake. The primary role of justice is to protect the weak and the innocent. But there are other important issues. How are the weak and innocent threatened by nuclear proliferation? What about assault rifles and hand guns? What about health care? What about environmental degradation? What about immigration policies that separate families and generate a national underbelly of second-class citizens? The weak and the innocent are suffering horribly in our nation from all of these problems. All of them need to be addressed. All of them need correction.
All this is to say that while, to a degree, I can see how Evangelicals are attracted to Trump, fundamentally he has not earned Evangelical loyalty. How can Evangelicals support a man who regularly stirs up racial strife? How can Evangelicals support a man who has a long history of disrespecting women (17 different women have accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior towards them). How can Evangelicals support a man who is famous for dishonesty? The Washington Post Fact Checker proclaims that Trump has made over 15,000 false or misleading statements in less than three years as President. That’s nearly 15 every day. (That’s tough to do. I suppose as President you would have more material to work with…but I think it would be a tough assignment to come up with 15 things to lie about every single day. Is it a Guinness World record? Apparently not, but that’s because Guinness has yet to establish lying as a record category. I think he would give Stalin and Goebbels a run for the money.)
“One of the sacred principles in U.S. history has been that presidents are supposed to tell the public the truth. So this is a new kind of Republican that refuses to ever admit culpability or a mistake and is willing to destroy not just institutions but fact-based thinking, empirical thinking.” – Douglas Brinkley, presidential historian.
Trump’s campaign claimed that he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. But what is the swamp? The “Washington Swamp” is made up of government officials who have been purchased by monied interests, who are intoxicated by power and the spotlight, and who are bound to the Ivy fraternity of privilege that has little regard for the well-being of the full citizenry of the nation. Trump always has seemed different than that smug assembly of smooth-talkers. But he is not different. He presents as straight-talking and tough but fundamentally he is more swampy than the rest of the wildlife. He is the alpha-alligator.
Republicans are laboring to protect Trump. The ploys being used by Republican Senators and Trump’s attorneys are the typical gimmicks and technicalities common to our courts of law. These gimmicks make a mockery of justice but, in this case, put the entire world in danger. If Republicans manage to squelch the impeachment process, the American people will have an opportunity to redeem themselves in the upcoming Presidential election. But there must also be a reckoning. While partisan behavior in the Democratic party is every bit as toxic as partisan behavior in the Republican party, the Republicans will need to suffer deep setbacks for their shameless defense of Trump. May Trump and many more Republicans be swept from office. The message must be clear: America must have a President of integrity, who genuinely serves the interests of all U.S. citizens.