There is presently a lot of debate among Democrats regarding impeachment of the President. Proponents argue that the President should be impeached because of his Russian connections, and his obstruction of justice; and some even argue that his collusion with Russians amounts to treason. Conversely, opponents of impeachment argue that they should not impeach him because they will lose votes in 2020 just as Republicans lost votes as a result of impeaching Bill Clinton. So, what should Democrats do?
The U.S. Constitution clearly states (Article II, Section 4) “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Now treason and bribery are well defined crimes. There is no definition of high crimes, but one could easily interpret high crimes to mean felonies such as murder, armed robbery, etc. But what constitutes a misdemeanor? The on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary defines misdemeanor as 1: a crime less serious than a felony and 2: misdeed. The first definition requires a legal statute, public law or ordnance to determine what, exactly, is punishable. The latter, misdeed, is totally ambiguous. Again referring to the dictionary, it defines misdeed as 1: a wrong deed and 2: an offense which, in turn is defined as 1: something that outrages the moral or physical senses, 2a: the act of displeasing or affronting, 2b: the state of being insulted or morally outraged. A literal interpretation of the impeachment article is then The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, Felonies, (Legal) Misdemeanors, Wrong Deeds, Something that Outrages the Moral or Physical Senses or Acts of Displeasing or Affronting1.
Note that impeachment and conviction as defined in the Constitution are purely political processes conducted in the U.S. Congress by political representatives rather than legal processes conducted in the courts of law by judges. As such, there are no legal requirements regarding seriousness of offense, or procedural processes such as those established in criminal law. Also note the use of the word shall rather than may makes impeachment obligatory (not optional) when appropriate.
In the present situation, we have clearly established, if nothing else, that by condoning violence and even advocating violence between supporters and opponents, lying perpetually to the public, using obscenities in public, abusing the press, appointing unqualified persons to head government agencies, violating the Constitutional emoluments rule, disrespecting women, minorities and anyone he doesn’t like, disrespecting our allies, reneging on international agreements, embracing foreign dictators, and being contemptuous of democracy both at home and abroad, the President’s behavior has outraged the moral senses and is displeasing and affronting to the majority of Americans. He has also abused the power of his office in defying Congress’ authority to monitor his actions, misused the courts by filing law suits to defy Congress, misappropriated public funds in building a wall that Congress specifically denied. and declared a national emergency to avoid restrictions imposed by Congress. Therefore, by the Constitution, it is incumbent on the Congress to impeach and convict the President and failure to do so is in violation of the Constitution.
Even worse than violating the Constitution, failure to impeach sends a clear message to future presidents that any behavior2 and any abuse of power is completely acceptable.
Granted, in the current situation, Republicans in the Senate will not convict the President and he will not be removed. Regardless, Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, must impeach the President for two reasons: 1) Democrats must take a stand on the unacceptability of amoral behavior and abuse of power by a President even if Republicans refuse to do so for political expediency; and more importantly 2) we cannot afford to allow future presidents to believe they are unimpeachable.
1Bear in mind, there are no statutes regulating impeachment and therefore no legal requirements or constraints on interpreting the words of the Constitution. Impeachment is strictly a political process, not a legal process. Any interpretation of the founders’ intent simply must be reasonable, logically defensible and consistent with current values of society.
2Other than getting a blow job