Cross-posted at Letters Blogatory.
In late 2016, after the election, there was a movement seeking to persuade the electoral college to elect someone other than Mr. Trump president. I had already been arguing here for a long time that Donald Trump was unfit to be president and that he posed a danger to our country. It wasn’t just that he held bad views. He had no character. And we saw today that, as Shakespeare’s Lorenzo says:
The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils.
But I nevertheless disagreed with the effort to prevent a Trump presidency via the electoral college. While the founding fathers did envision the electoral college as a group of wise and knowledgeable citizen who could be trusted to elect a worthy president, the real function of the college, for almost the whole of our constitutional history, has been to rubber-stamp the result of the popular vote in each state. And so I wrote:
I’m sure all of the electors are decent people and that they all want to do what they ought to do. But with due respect to them, no one elected them because of their superior wisdom or judgment. To the contrary—we elected them to rubber-stamp the popular vote in each state. So even if we wanted to bring Hamilton’s intentions to life, there’s no reason to think that the electors we chose are the people to do it. Why is their judgment likely to be any better than the judgment of the people at large?
I now think that was a mistake. My view implicitly assumed that the world was basically normal or that it would get back to normal. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then, but the past couple days have led me to think that the idea of “getting back to normal” is at great risk. I am not going to give a detailed account of the disastrous NATO summit, the President’s outrageous behavior in the UK, or the humiliating press conference he gave after his meeting with President Putin today. You can read about them for yourself. I do think the events of this last week make it even more imperative that Trump be removed from office.
Well, great, what does that mean? Of course I think that Trump must be removed from office by constitutional means. You might say that the Constitution permits impeachment and conviction only for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and you might question whether President Trump is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. But the decision of the House of Representatives to impeach, and of the Senate to convict, is at bottom a question of political judgment, not legal judgment. And I think the time has come for Congress to say that enough is enough, and to remove the President from office whether or not he is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. Congress could do it in a day if it wished.
Impeachment in such a case would change the historical balance of power between Congress and the President and would move us towards a system of Congressional supremacy. In the abstract, this would be regrettable in my view—it’s regrettable in principle, and these days Congress is no great shakes either. But the country is facing a real emergency, and so I don’t see that we should talk about the problem of Trump as though all is well. We don’t have a Roman censor, so we need to find a way to muddle through given the Constitution we have.
Of course, unless something changes, impeachment isn’t going to happen. Some congressional Republicans are occasionally critical of the President, but the GOP is so afraid of the demons it has unleashed within the Republican electorate that the chances are very low that congressional Republicans will confront the President in a meaningful way. Perhaps you could find a coalition of some Republicans and Democrats in both houses to support such a move if an impeachment resolution were laid before the House, but I doubt that you could find any Republicans willing to defy their own leadership and bring impeachment to the floor, and I doubt that the majority party leadership in either house has the moral courage necessary in any case.
I do not put all of the blame for Trump on Trump himself or on the Republican Party. If the Republican electorate demanded action, we would have action. We, the American people, are responsible for the cowardice of our politicians. And I do not put all of the blame on the people. There is a whole media infrastructure that shapes public opinion today and that is untethered from traditional journalistic ethics. Nor are the Democrats beyond blame. There are corners of the Democratic Party that reject the Mueller investigation as Russophobia, that reflexively distrust anything our prosecutors say, etc. The Democratic Party has a real opportunity to become the party of sober, traditional American foreign policy, the policy of national security and the national interest, that no doubt they will let pass them by. But basically Trump is a monster that the Republicans created and enabled, and that at least until the next elections, only they have the power to slay.