Home / General / Impeaching Trump Would Be Purely Symbolic, And There’s No Reason To Think It Would be Effective Symbolism

Impeaching Trump Would Be Purely Symbolic, And There’s No Reason To Think It Would be Effective Symbolism


Pelosi is getting some criticism for stating the obvious:

I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: 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.

Note here that Pelosi isn’t saying that Trump shouldn’t be impeached, per se, but that there’s no point in impeaching him if he can’t plausibly be removed from office. Which is correct:

  • If Trump can’t be convicted in the Senate, impeachment is purely a question of symbolic politics. What would it accomplish? What end would it serve?
  • Trump is already unpopular. Open-ended investigations are an excellent way of making him even less popular while informing the public. Republicans were able to severely damage Hillary Clinton with a bunch of investigations that were just snipe hunts, as opposed to serious investigations of many scandals any one of which would have destroyed the typical political career.
  • Impeachment proceedings would definitely mobilize Trump’s supporters plus some wavering Republicans. On the other hand, “impeachment” in the common vernacular tends to be conflated with “impeachment and removal.” Impeachment proceedings therefore set up expectations among a lot of Trump opponents that won’t be fulfilled. How does an impeachment that can’t even get a simple majority (let alone the necessary supermajority) in the Senate, with inevitable “Views differ about partisan witch hunt” and “Democrats, the only party with any causal impact on American politics, fail to remove Trump because they’re failures” coverage, mobilize Trump’s opponents?
  • Yes, yes, Watergate, Things Escalated Quickly, we know. The fact that Republicans turned on Nixon in an era in which major environmental legislation could pass 366-11 in the House and 74-0 in the Senate is about as relevant to how things would play out in 2019 as the mastery of radio communications is to modern presidential campaigning.

The only considerations of impeaching Trump with no hope of removal are political, and there’s every reason to think that the downside far exceeds the upside.

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