By Todd Buchanan
Some people who acknowledge that impeachment was never intended to be limited to behavior which would constitute a crime per se nevertheless worry that impeachment for anything less might put us on a slippery slope. It could establish a dangerous precedent.
In response, first it is important to consider that a president, by virtue of the power inherent in the office, can do great harm to society and its individual members short of committing a crime. A recent example might be the Iraq War. Though one might argue that the war was not legal by international standards, for the sake of argument let us assume international law did not apply, and the decision to initiate that war and the prosecution of it did not violate any United States statutes.
Let us also assume that our leaders did not intentionally mislead us as to the purposes of the war, chiefly, to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
Thus far, the costs of that war and its repercussions in blood and treasure– for all sides– have been horrendous. A very reasonable case can be made that it was out of the initial chaos and the exclusive and often vengeful policies of the freshly empowered Iraqi Shiites that enough embittered Sunnis could support the emergence of first Al Qaeda in Iraq and then ISIS. The Obama administration may have dropped the ball afterward, though we cannot know that an earlier and more forceful response to ISIS would have produced the intended result; too much goes wrong in war to say with much confidence what any alternative course would have produced. Similarly, we cannot know now what the outcomes of a more aggressive response to ISIS will produce.
Even if the Bush administration did not intentionally mislead the American people and others as to the purposes of the Iraq War, it was not difficult before the war to anticipate the outcomes. If there was a winner, it was Iran. In addition, thousands upon thousands of young Muslims were and continue to be energized by the narratives of extremists, which is no surprise to anyone who bothered to read the statements of Osama bin Laden and others of his persuasion beforehand.
Thus, the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 was clearly reckless, as many veterans of international politics and members of previous administrations warned at the time. Surely a reckless war would qualify as a serious violation of the public trust, and there would be deterrent value in impeaching and removing the commander in chief. So why was President George W. Bush not impeached?
The obvious answer is there was not the political will in Congress to go down that road. But one did not have to think very far to realize that the cure, removing Bush and replacing him with then Vice President Dick Cheney, would be worse than the ailment, as Cheney was instrumental in pushing his boss into the fateful decision. Then we would have been in the business of impeaching Cheney as well. An alternative might have been to impeach and remove only Cheney, which would have been a more precise application of the remedy and less disruptive of government.
As in standard law enforcement and justice, the fact that many crimes go undetected or unprosecuted is not a very good reason to fail to prosecute suspected criminals in general. Thus, the question of whether or not to impeach Donald Trump should be addressed on its merits, regardless of whether or not the American people should have consistently applied the same remedy for other violations of the public trust by previous administrations.
Americans should ask themselves a few questions. First, can we trust Donald Trump to execute his duties with the interests of the Nation uppermost? Second, can we trust him to successfully navigate what might prove to be the trickiest nuclear confrontation since the Cuban Missile Crisis? And third, does Donald Trump do justice to American values, or does he do violence to them?
What are our minimal expectations of a president, and does Donald Trump meet those?