Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Psychology of Party Politics and Impeachment

Consider the current question of the contact between Russia and the Trump campaign. We know there was contact and we even know that sensitive information was discussed, as in the sanctions put in place by Obama against the Russians. We know the Russians, by their own admission, sought to get Trump elected over Clinton. We currently have no absolute evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as far as interfering in the election.

But, what if there was in fact collusion?  What if the current President did conspire with a foreign power in order to become elected president? And not just any foreign power but a foreign power with nuclear missiles aimed at us 24 hours a day since the 1950's. If collusion, was proven how hard would it actually be to impeach  the ?  It would, by all accounts, be extremely difficult to do and would certainly cause horrendous disruption in the country but treason is treason.  

Yet, even with evidence, why do most say it would be nearly impossible to even start the impeachment ball rolling?  The answer is clearly seen every time there is a State of the Union Address.  Ever notice there is something odd about the frequent standing ovations the President always receives?  Specifically, I refer to how most of the standing ovations of the night include only one half of the room or the other.  When the President says something that the Republicans back, the half of the room comprised of Republicans gets to their feet while the other half of the room applauds politely.  When a comment that is supported by the Democrats is made this outcome reverses.  No one really believes that there would a motion or proposal that 100% of the Republicans and 0% of the Democrats support or vice versa, such that this can only reflect party politics.  

The same thing applies to impeachment.  The United States constitution sets up strict requirements for removal of a sitting president for transgressions of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”  It requires, however, that both the House and two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of impeachment.  Given that impeachment is a political act and the Constitution does not set down any specifics as to under what conditions a President must be removed from office, Impeachment remains in the hands of Congress.  Congress is unlikely to act unless they decide it is in their best interests.  As the Republican Party controls both the House and Senate, they are highly unlikely to try to impeach their own President as it would only hurt them and the Republican Party to do so, also likely ensuring the winner of the next election will be a Democrat.    

For this to happen, several conditions would have to be present. There would need to be solid, irrefutable proof of criminal wrongdoing by the president. This proof would have to be so undeniable that the support Trump currently has would turn against him, making it impossible for the Republicans to fail to impeach him.  Essentially, the Republicans would have to perceive Trump’s continued presidency to be more harmful to them than his removal would be.  At this point there is nothing that approaches this criteria.  Additionally, Trump’s approval ratings would have to be extremely low, before the Republicans began to perceive impeachment they have a mandate for impeachment. Yet with the recent firing of the FBI director and Trump’s approval ratings dropping off significantly, impeachment may be becoming increasingly likely.

This is exactly what Alexander Hamilton was concerned about in Federalist Paper # 65.  In this paper, Hamilton acknowledges that having a political body be the ones to act as a court regarding impeachment proceedings is less than ideal.  He argued this due to the fact that in a bipartisan system, the body responsible for impeachment proceedings would have a majority of one party or the other.  Thus, the decision of whether to prosecute the President would likely be politically based not based on justice.  

While Hamilton recognized that any Government would have small imperfections in terms of handling every problematic situation that arose, it appears that the system of impeaching a President is more than a small imperfection.  It seems that when Congress and the President have the same party affiliation there is practically nothing the President can do that will result in impeachment while when party affiliation differs impeachment proceedings might be attempted to embarrass the other party or get the President out of office despite no true wrongdoing.  This means impeachment has become a weapon to use by Congress against a President of a different political party or as a means of protection allowing a President to stretch the limits of Constitutional authority without repercussion.

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