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During the Constitutional Convention that the founders of this nation took part in at the tail-end of the 18th century (in lieu of trying to repair an already existent yet broken government), it was inevitable that delegates would eventually have to posit the question of what to do regarding a chief executive who broke the public’s trust.
A president that abused their office should not be allowed to remain in power, many of the delegates said. Others agreed, but believed that the proper place for removing a chief executive was through the presidential selection process. The expiration of a president’s term, and the decision by delegates of the Electoral College, should be the mechanism used to remove harmful presidents, they thought.
Delegate Elbridge Gerry disagreed with that notion. According to notes of the convention taken by James Madison, Gerry (who was by no means a perfect man himself — his name is where we get the term “gerrymander” from) spoke in favor of an impeachment process that allowed Congress to remove a sitting president, not just for malpractice or criminal behavior, but also for clear abuses of their office.
Another delegate objected to Gerry’s ideas. Surely, having a “rod” over the head of the president, a consistent threat over their head as they served in office, would hinder their otherwise legitimate actions.
Gerry countered that decent presidents wouldn’t have to worry about such things. On impeachments, Gerry said, “A good magistrate will not fear them. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.”
Gerry added, according to Madison, that he hoped the convention would reject the notion that presidents could inherently do no wrong once they were in office.
This short history lesson ought to be remembered today. Good presidents should not serve fearful of being impeached — but those who might misbehave or may be thinking of betraying the public trust ought to be forever wary of their possibly being subjected to the possibility of being held to account.
President Donald Trump fits the latter of those two types of presidents. He is not a good man — many of his apologists readily admit to that point. Even Trump’s own campaign ads state he’s No Mr. Nice Guy. They use the idea as a selling point.
But it’s precisely that type of person our founders warned us against trusting. They didn’t necessarily say we should expect presidents to be nice and genial persons — but they also ultimately decided that a means to remove immoral and indecent chief executives, who govern like kings rather than civil servants, should be included in our highest governing document, the Constitution, in order to keep our country free of despotism or personal aggrandizement.
BREAKING: Democrats unveil articles of impeachment charging President Trump with abuse of power, obstruction of Congress. https://t.co/4BikIyjsH7
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) December 10, 2019
Trump has proven time and again that his actions are not nice. Yet this past summer, when it was revealed that he tried to coerce the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival — using military aid promised to that nation in order to increase leverage to get that investigation announced — his behavior crossed the line from being un-nice to showcasing a betrayal of his sworn duties to this nation.
Trump frequently tells us to “read the transcript” of the call between him and Volodymyr Zelensky. While it’s actually a memo, and not a transcript, the record of the call does not vindicate his actions. If anything, it provides clear evidence of his malfeasance.
Defenders of Trump have said he asked for a “favor” from Zelensky to root out corruption within Ukraine. Yet the name of the rival Trump asked for an investigation of, former vice president Joe Biden, is clear to see within the memo. Any casual observer (save for those who deify Trump) can see that conversation is not about corruption — it’s about ensuring Biden, who’s hoping to unseat Trump in next year’s presidential contests, gets proverbial egg on his face.
The matter gets even murkier for Trump, considering that adequate steps were already taken to root out corruption within Kyiv before his conversation took place — the Pentagon had determined in May that Ukraine was deserving of the military aid the president was withholding from them, precisely because the new government’s leaders were taking proactive steps against corruption that had existed before.
It’s clear what Trump’s motives were, but an investigation into his actions was severely limited by his blatant interferences and obstructions once the impeachment inquiry began in late September. Trump refused to allow a number of White House officials to respond to subpoena orders from Congress, to testify before a co-equal branch of government.
Doing so curtailed the right of Congress, and indeed the American people, to arrive at any deeper truths of the matter. In short, Trump’s aimed to disallow members of the House of Representatives — commonly called “the people’s house” — from being able to learn the whole truth about what had actually happened.
The two articles of impeachment outlined above — the abuse of power by this president, and his obstruction of Congress to investigate the alleged abuses — are, without a doubt, wholly justified. We knew that Trump was not Mr. Nice Guy, but the case laid out by members of the House demonstrates that he’s distrustful in every sense of the word.
The public cannot trust this president to fulfill his duties in a decent and honest way, and they cannot trust him to further their needs when he’s putting his own first.
Our nation’s elections deserve to be free from interference, but this president welcomes it, encourages and extorts other nations to work on his behalf, in order to ensure his re-election is successful. Then, when his hand is caught in the cookie jar, he tries to make it next to impossible for material witnesses to be heard.
If those are not impeachable offenses, then the very ideals our founders argued for, in favor of impeachment to remove “chief magistrates” who committed wrongs from the office they hold, means nothing. Impeachment becomes an unimportant and unenforceable line in a 230-some-year-old piece of paper, an idea that sounds nice, but which holds absolutely no weight, especially if we allow ourselves to normalize what Trump has done.
Without a doubt, impeachment exists to remove a president who has behaved as Trump has. The founders, it’s clear, would agree, given their fierce debates over the merits of impeachment in the first place.