By Frank Bowman
I haven’t been blogging for a longish time. That’s partly been due to frantic scuttling about attending either to personal life or the opportunities to communicate through other media occasioned by the recent publication of my book. Part of the radio silence must also be put down to fatigue — simple inability to tabulate and maintain a suitable level of outrage at Mr. Trump’s endless assaults on constitutional propriety. At a certain point, the parade of offenses is so relentless that the man just wears you down.
But now I have to shake off my lethargy. We all do.
What Trump has now admitted about his contacts with the Ukrainian President is – by every textualist, originalist, historical, living constitutionalist, or commonsense standard – impeachable. Full stop. I’ll expand on that in later posts.
For today, I worry about two things, but come to one long-delayed conclusion.
First, Trump and his abettors in Congress, Fox News, and far-right echo chamber are already turning this into a story about supposed corruption of Vice President Biden and his son. To 30-40% of country, that will stick, regardless of the facts. See Benghazi.
Second, regardless of the facts, the law, and the applicable ethics-in-government rules, Hunter Biden’s choice to take a seat on the board of Ukrainian conglomerate Burisma Holdings looks bad. Legal or not, one would have to be blind not to suspect Hunter Biden’s major asset from Burisma’s point of view was his father’s position. Perhaps Joe couldn’t have stopped his boy from cashing in this way. Any father with a wayward son will understand the limits of that endeavor. But Hunter’s opportunism now unavoidably taints the Biden family as akin to the Clintons – congenitally unable to resist trading on their public position for money.
That’s desperately unfair to Vice President Biden. Whatever he is, he’s not a grifter. But fair or not, it means that both the looming impeachment battle and perhaps the 2020 election will be ugly mudfights comparing the real corruption of Trump & Co with supposed corruption of the Bidens.
It all makes me inexpressibly weary and sad. But I no longer think a real, to-the-knife, impeachment fight can be avoided. Trump has unapologetically admitted that he used the power of the presidency to secure help from a foreign power against a political rival. Constitutionally, he has shot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue. And he’s daring Congress and the rest of us to do something about it.
So, at last, I come to the point I have avoided for many months. Since starting this blog, I’ve contented myself with parsing the constitutional text and the historical evidence to distinguish between presidential behavior that could fairly and soberly be deemed impeachable and other behavior that, however distasteful, could not. But until today, I have never expressed an opinion about whether Congress should do what Mr. Trump’s misconduct has long given it the constitutional authority to do.
AS OF TODAY, here’s what I believe: If we love this country, we must take up the gauntlet Donald Trump has sneeringly thrown down. We must insist that the House stop its cautious minuet — one step forward, two back, and a hop step to the side — always hoping to be seen as doing something while never actually getting anywhere much at all.
We must insist that the House immediately hire the necessary staff to do a proper, comprehensive, speedy impeachment inquiry. We must demand that it move expeditiously to prepare and vote on articles of impeachment once that inquiry has winnowed the possible offenses down to those that are most serious and most readily provable to the public and at the bar of Senate.
We must insist that the Senate face its own reckoning. Mitch McConnell will no doubt attempt to shield Republicans from the unpleasantness of choosing between political expediency and their country’s honor and safety. But I think, in the end, he will not succeed. Both courage and principle are in short supply in the American Senate in these degenerate days. And conviction of Trump in the Senate remains vanishingly unlikely. But I do not believe McConnell can prevent at least a public vote. And I am no longer convinced, if I ever was, that forcing Republicans to choose is even bad politics.
In any case, there comes a time when nice calculations of political advantage simply cannot matter any more. This is such a time. If the House of Representatives will not at least try to use the tools the Constitution provided for the emergency of an ignorant, mendacious, bullying, demagogic, would-be autocrat, it abandons even the pretense of being a consequential participant in American republican government. If the House will not even risk labeling Trump’s brazen abuses of power as the constitutional high crimes they are, what future is there for representative democracy?
It falls to the rest of us to help our timorous leaders screw their courage to the sticking place. It falls to us to demand that now — at long, long last — Donald Trump must be impeached.