Public Citizen News / November-December 2019
By Robert Weissman
This article appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.
The outcome of the impeachment process will fundamentally alter the course of our nation for decades.
If it leaves President Donald Trump weaker – even if it doesn’t ultimately result in his removal from office – then pro-democracy forces will be ascendant. Our country stands on the precipice of transformative, progressive change and the impeachment process could help us get there.
On the other hand, if Trump emerges stronger from impeachment – not just still in office, but politically stronger – then we face the prospect of some very frightening times.
The reality of these two alternative futures is why Public Citizen is throwing everything we have into driving the impeachment process forward.
On the merits, the case for impeachment is open and shut. Simply based on Trump’s own words, from a summary of a conversation with the Ukrainian president that Trump himself chose to release, we know that he withheld military assistance in order to pressure another country to intervene in our elections. That’s a shocking and undeniably impeachable abuse of power.
Trump’s manifold flagrant abuses of the Constitution provide many additional rationales for impeaching him, including his everyday violation of the Constitution’s anti-corruption (“emoluments”) provisions; his sickening violation of core First Amendment, freedom of religion principles in seeking to block people from coming to the United States based on their religion; his mockery of his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” including by racing the world to the precipice of climate catastrophe in violation of his duties under the Clean Air Act and other statutes; and much more.
But, of course, the slam-dunk case for impeachment and conviction doesn’t provide any guarantees that Trump will be impeached and convicted – nor even that he’ll emerge from the process weakened.
We know that, no matter what, Trump will continue to claim that he did nothing wrong; that he will whine that his opponents are trying to remove him because they can’t beat him in an election; and that, if he’s not convicted, he will try to claim exoneration.
There are real risks here, because that strategy could work.
Trump and his allies aim to focus attention on a purportedly unfair process and to make the impeachment story so confused and convoluted that the American public can’t follow it. And, they are going to try and politically threaten Republicans so that they vote on impeachment not out of conscience, but out of fear of retaliation from Trump.
If Trump can pull all that off and emerge stronger, then he’s liable to believe himself immune from all accountability.
Layer that on top of his fascistic rallies and … well, the frightening scenarios are genuinely terrifying.
So, we can’t – and we won’t – let those scenarios come to pass.
We prevent those nightmare scenarios by preventing Trump from muddying the water and by mobilizing public pressure on elected officials of both major parties to stand up and defend our Constitution.
Whether or not that pressure is enough to win Trump’s conviction, it’s going to make a difference. It’ll support moderate Democrats who fear an impeachment vote may hurt their re-election chances. It will make forceful advocacy of impeachment even clearer and stronger. It will move some Republican votes. And it will force many Republicans who vote not to impeach or convict Trump at least to condemn his behavior.
We are up on Capitol Hill every day strategizing with allied lawmakers and lobbying for impeachment; we are helping lead a massive coalition for impeachment; we are providing expert advice on Constitutional law and the rule of law; we are running a full-fledged media campaign in support of impeachment; and we are helping drive grassroots action in targeted states where members of Congress or senators are equivocating on impeachment or conviction.
The most important thing we are going to do is put hundreds of thousands of people on the street in protests across the country to support impeachment.
With allies, we are organizing major demonstrations in hundreds of cities and towns, for the day before the U.S. House of Representatives impeachment vote.
Our aim is simple: We want every member of Congress to know – and to feel viscerally – the strong American support for impeachment and the rule of law.
With these activities and especially the massive demonstrations, our overriding objectives are to weaken Trump, validate the fundamental principle that nobody is above the law and ensure that impeachment leaves our democracy stronger and more vital. In so doing, we will build the political power we need to win the bold changes Americans are demanding to make our country more fair and just, to restrain corporate power and to empower the people. This is a big moment, indeed.