Guilty as charged

6. He was impeached for good reason, but his acquittal emboldened him

In the history of the American republic, three presidents have been impeached; none has gone on to be convicted in a Senate trial. The first impeachment happened for obscure reasons in the unsettled years immediately following the Civil War. Andrew Johnson was an ass who impeded efforts to remake the South, but he was impeached on scant grounds: he had allegedly violated a federal employment law, the terms of which were ambiguous. No real harm was done.

The second impeachment was all sordidness and no substance; it resulted from Bill Clinton’s apparent inability to refrain from having a tryst in the Oval Office and then choosing to prevaricate when asked about it later, under oath. Those actions were evidence of poor judgment on his part but caused no real damage to the nation. The impeachment was mostly an attempt by the Republican Party to hurt the Democrats by shaming the president, and to that end it may have succeeded in a minor way.

And then there was the third impeachment. In that case, the president was caught threatening to withhold military aid from the government of an ally unless they launched an investigation into the son of a potential adversary in the upcoming American election. Unlike the two previous impeachments, this one involved conduct that was deeply unethical, potentially criminal, and had clearly negative effects on America’s standing in the community of nations. Nevertheless, the Senate, controlled by the president’s own party, acquitted him at trial—this after turning the whole procedure into a circus that made a mockery of the idea that a president should be accountable to anyone.

Let’s keep this simple. Any president has a solemn duty to keep foreign policy and diplomacy separate from either electoral politics or his own personal interests, and the American people have every right to expect their behavior to be beyond reproach in that regard. DT failed miserably at that—perhaps initially out of ignorance (no excuse) and eventually out of a willful disregard for the requirements of his office. Considering the evidence, he richly deserved to be impeached and convicted. If that had happened, we wouldn’t be in the full-blown, multi-pronged crisis we’re in now. Having beaten the rap once, thanks to the bootlicking Senate Republicans, he has learned that there were no actual checks or balances on him once he was sworn in, and there can be no doubt that he would exploit that deficiency if given another term. So it is up to us, America’s voters, to deploy the only remaining check and balance: voting him out of office before he can do any more harm.

Russia again

It isn’t especially surprising that DT’s impeachment involved his blackmailing a country that is desperately trying to maintain its sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression. Ukraine was right to consider the U.S. an ally: we have good reason to discourage Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to regain territory lost in the breakup of the USSR, and under President Obama, that’s what we did—without quid pro quo. By attempting to tie continued aid for Ukraine to their doing a personal favor for the president, DT caused significant damage to our nation’s reputation. But it probably ingratiated him in the eyes of Putin, which for some reason seems to be a priority for him.