Note: what follows is the text of a letter I am sending, with appropriate modifications, to my Democratic Senators, Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, and my Republican Congresswoman, Elise Stefanik. I hope that even now similar letters are bombarding the offices of every member of Congress. For further ammunition, I highly recommend the op-eds by Eugene Robinson and Charles Blow, cited (and linked) below. Political lore has it that written letters get more attention than emails.
Six months ago I would have agreed with Nancy Pelosi’s arguments against impeaching President Donald Trump. But it has since become clear—even to Speaker Pelosi, though she fails to draw the appropriate conclusion—that the United States is facing a constitutional crisis. Indeed, it is the gravest such crisis since 1860-1, and as such, demands prompt and decisive action. Even the most “moderate” (as they are euphemistically called) Democrats must realize by now that any hope of bi-partisan cooperation is utterly delusional. We are living through a slow-motion coup d’etat, a steady unraveling of democratic institutions. Six more years of it and the damage may become irreparable, certainly in my lifetime (and that of the Speaker of the House).
Given the centrality of racism, both overt and covert, in Trump’s demagogic discourse, it is no surprise to find the most trenchant criticism of his misrule coming from the African-American community. The most powerful arguments for impeachment that I have seen so far were written by two of the country’s most distinguished African-American columnists: Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post and Charles Blow of the New York Times. On May 30, Robinson declared that Trump “has disgraced the office of president and sullied the nation’s honor. He’s not a disrupter, he’s a destroyer who tears down and obliterates hallowed ideals with no interest in replacing them.” Robinson puts the question succinctly: “If he doesn’t warrant the opening of an impeachment inquiry, what president ever would?”
Instead of that inquiry, we have a seemingly endless sequence of hearings, subpoenas, and legal battles, which Charles Blow, in the previous day's New York Times, correctly described as “patrician formalities in the middle of a blood battle.” Republicans, as Blow vividly puts it, have their “fangs bared” while the Congressional Democrats have their “tails tucked.” Blow’s title conveys the withering tone of his op-ed: “Democrats, Do Your Damned Duty!”
Because it is, finally, a matter of duty. The impeachment issue has become a test of moral character, and of political spine, for Congressional Democrats. They need to ask themselves the question posed by Eugene Robinson’s title: “If Trump doesn’t warrant impeachment, who does?” If Trump gets off the hook, what weapon will remain with which to constitutionally constrain a lawless Chief Executive? Failure to call Trump to account would put the bar for impeachment virtually out of reach. (Out of reach that is, for Democrats—the Republicans would presumably remain as quick on the trigger as they were against Bill Clinton.)
The passivity of Congressional Democrats is likely to produce escalating and increasingly rowdy public protest, which could easily provoke violent, perhaps even lethal confrontations—not only with the authorities, but with Trump’s most aggressive partisans.
Meanwhile, the Democrats’ obsession with winning back Trump’s white rural and working class base risks dampening the enthusiasm of some essential Democratic constituencies, among them African-Americans, Hispanics, progressive women, sexual minorities, and the young in general. (See, for example, "Black Voters Challenge House Members: Why is Trump Still in Office", NYT, 30 May, and Alicia Garza’s op-ed, "Dear Candidates: Here's What Black People Want", NYT, 28 May) These constituencies are overwhelmingly hostile to Trump, and they are the essential counterweight to Trump’s own fervent and apparently impenetrable “base.”
No party calling itself Democratic should define its “base” too tightly or precisely. But neither should it downplay the concerns of its most faithful supporters in the vain hope of seducing voters who are, at heart, indifferent or hostile to its essential goals. People who have been bamboozled by Donald Trump are not going to fall for Joe Biden.
There are several plausible explanations for Trump’s “victory” in 2016, but the abstention of many young people and especially young African-Americans clearly played a major role, just as the return of these constituencies to the fold was critical to the progressive victories of 2018. It is absolutely imperative that this renewed progressive momentum be sustained in 2020, since most of Trump’s True Believers are probably lost to us, alas, for at least the next two years.
It is therefore alarming to read in the New York Times that many African-Americans are increasingly disappointed by the timidity of this Democratic Congress. The same is probably true of young voters in general, whom the advent of Trumpism had jolted into political awareness. Unless the Party changes course and challenges the President head-on, the recrudescent alienation of young voters could—especially if the Party nominates someone like Joe Biden—keep Trump in the saddle.
The main responsibility for such a catastrophe would fall squarely on the Democrats who control the 116th Congress. In that event, the failure of this Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings would have effected the de facto repeal of Article II Section 4 of the United States Constitution, which provides for the impeachment of a miscreant Chief Executive. Do they really want this dubious legislative achievement on their resumés (not to mention on their consciences)? Is this how they want to be historically remembered? These thoughts alone should outweigh the tactical arguments for further pussy-footing.
Postscript: I realize, of course, that the Senate cannot initiate impeachment proceedings, but both Gillibrand and Schumer are powerful figures in the Democratic Party and have considerable moral clout with House Democrats. Nor do I have any illusion that Congresswoman Stefanik will be influenced by my argument. But even Republicans should be made aware of how intensely Trump is loathed by politically aware citizens, and should be worrying that this loathing will extend to Trump’s enablers in the Republican Party. The more Republicans who find it prudent to distance themselves from this tyrannical buffoon, the better off we shall all be. Here are the addresses for anyone who wants to join the chorus:
The Hon. Nancy Pelosi/ 1236 Longworth House Office Bldg/Washington D.C., 20514
The Hon. Elise Stefanik/ 318 Cannon House Office Bldg/ Washington DC 20515
The Hon. Kirsten Gillibrand/ Russell Senate Office Bldg 478/Washington 20510-3205
The Hon. Charles Schumer/Hart Senate Office Bldg 322/Washington DC 20510.