First, let’s say the obvious: There already is more cause to impeach this president than there was the last time the political system veered down this road.
This one stands credibly accused of felonies for directing hush money to a porn star for the purpose of influencing an election. There’s more — a lot more — but that right there is at least as bad as what they used back in the day to ring up Bill Clinton.
So it’s understandable that liberals are a bit hacked off that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appeared to wave the surrender flag on the whole enterprise this week.
“I’m not for impeachment,” she said. “I’m going to give you some news right now … Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
That got the left braying like kicked donkeys.
“Is doing what’s right ‘worth it?’ ” fumed billionaire Tom Steyer, who drew hundreds to a Seattle rally last year for his “Need to Impeach” movement. “Or shall America just stop fighting for our principles and do what’s politically convenient?”
“[Voters] really are angry,” echoed Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle. “I don’t think it’s something we decide whether or not it’s ‘worth it.’ If it’s a consistent pattern of abuse of power, of obstruction of justice … then that to me seems like it will be impeachable.”
As someone who had the privilege (curse?) of covering every tawdry hour of the Bill Clinton impeachment saga as a reporter in the 1990s, I would like to note a few things I learned back then, for context as this debate rages in the months ahead.
One: There’s no need to launch an impeachment investigation, as so many people are demanding of Pelosi. It’s little remembered fact, but Republicans, for all their zealousness, never launched an impeachment investigation into Clinton. They didn’t need to, because an independent counsel, Ken Starr, did all the snooping for them.
This is exactly the dynamic now. There’s a special counsel, Robert Mueller, looking into Trump’s campaign, and three House committees probing other scandals and controversies. In other words, and this is important: There’s already a multipronged impeachment investigation underway, without the political nuclear war, yet, of branding it “impeachment.”
So that’s what Pelosi was urging: Speak softly, big stick. Rather than what the firebrand progressives seem so enamored by, which is the reverse.
The second thing I learned is that impeachment sounds a whole lot weightier than it is. Yes, they call it a trial, and it has the trappings of prosecutors and witnesses and physical evidence (who can forget the stained blue dress, not me). But like everything in politics, it’s a big show put on not for the senators but for the real jury, the public.
Thus the Clinton saga can be summed in one sentence. Everyone knew he was guilty but he got off because the people liked him, the end.
That’s the most important thing about impeachment — it’s a solely political exercise, no different, really, than an election. Republicans were hellbent to impeach Bill Clinton in part because it was his last term, and so impeachment was the only way left to hold him accountable. Even then it failed because the public, through opinion polls, effectively “voted” to keep Clinton around.
Which brings us back to Trump. He’s up for re-election, and the campaign has already started. Barring some major revelation that somehow wakes the broader GOP from its corrupted slumber, the next accountability moment likely won’t be impeachment. It’ll be the 2020 election.
So Pelosi was saying: Why not proceed to build a case for the real jury? Rather than for the craven Mitch McConnell-led lap dogs in the Senate, who have sold their souls to Trump in hopes of confirming a few more judges.
Impeachment sounds cleansing. But hear me on this one: It probably won’t bring justice. It can air grievances, but it won’t end in the liberal fantasy of Trump doing the perp walk. Ask the ’90s: It likely wouldn’t settle a thing.
One thing that can, though, is voting. So there is a way to really impeach Trump, and that’s the people doing it themselves, at the polls.