The Dems may have chosen the two wrong articles of impeachment


One has to be impressed in a perverse way at the fact that no Republican broke ranks on Donald Trump in the impeachment vote. Some even defended their votes with passion. I've often felt that since we know several of them loathe Trump that they were just acting out of party loyalty and a sense of self-preservation within their party.

But I start to wonder that some serious number of them, and their voters, don't think Trump's actions are that big a deal. Here's why:

  1. The first article is really about Trump using his office to help him cheat a bit in the upcoming election. Politicians don't think cheating in elections is wrong when it's done by their side.
  2. The second article is about obstruction. It's a fairly common attitude among non-jurists that obstruction isn't very wrong if the thing you're being investigated for isn't wrong.

Together, they may be legitimately wondering why this was the crime that Democrats planted their flag on. They often remarked about how many Democrats have wanted, at some level, to impeach Trump since day one, and they're not wrong. These two articles cover just one incident in a long line of transgression by Trump, including those that predate his election, such as his call to Russia to get Clinton's e-mails and things outlined in the Mueller report meshed with his own statements about how it's OK to accept help from Russia as long as you don't ask for it. The Democrats have been itching, but at the same time afraid, knowing that impeachment can backfire.

They chose this one it seems, because it's fairly clear cut, and the President and his chief of staff both confessed to it on video.

But their mistake may be that they felt that election cheating was such an obvious abuse of power. Sadly, it's not obvious, but not because it isn't a clear abuse of power, but because almost all politicians also participate in election cheating. The Republicans have become much worse about it of late, but most Democrats all benefit from things like Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a much stronger and nastier form of election cheating, done by both parties (though much more by Republicans) and neither party has renounced it or repudiated or expelled its members who participate in it.

The Republicans have jumped to Trump's defense because trying to get a third party to release some dirt on your political opponents has become part of the game. That's what Trump tried to get, after all. Not an actual investigation that showed Biden did something wrong, but simply the announcement that he was being investigated. Countless politicians have "opposition research" departments which try to find potential scandals on their adversaries. When they do, the next step is to find a way to leak that information to make the other guy look bad.

I fear they all think this sort of thing is fair game if their side is doing it. The voter suppression, Gerrymandering and the endless blatant lies that nobody ever criticises within their own party show this. Half of them have done something like this, or wished they could. They just didn't have the powers of the President at hand to do it, and they weren't so stupid as to do it while honest non-politicians were listening in on the deals.

The lies. Trump is the all time champion of them, by a wide margin, but it's an extremely rare politician who gets a perfect score from any of the fact checking organizations. The favours for donors. The indirect super-pac donations. So many of them do it, and do it so much they hardly even notice it any more.

Of course, famously, Nixon was forced out for trying to cheat in an election -- or more correctly for trying to cover-up the cheating efforts of his CREEPs. Eventually his own party turned on him. This trigger crime was a burglary, not a more subtle foreign relations quid pro quo. Nobody spent any time arguing whether burglary was OK or not.

Since conviction is unlikely, the prime goals of impeachment were to strike some fear into Republican hearts, and to get some of them to turn. None of them did, so far. As foretold, in fact, it has unified them, but the story is not over. Trump has managed to spread this tolerance for cheating to his base, who are OK with what he does because he's their man.

Obstruction of Congress

It gets worse when you consider the second article, obstruction of congress. This one is also quite strong on the facts. It's the impression of how bad it is that again causes the problem. Obstruction is a strange offense, well understood by jurists who value the rule of law. It is less obvious to the public. If you're innocent, or the crime is not a serious crime, it seems odd to get punished for trying to fight your (thus unfair) prosecution and attempting to get in its way. In fact, we have constitutional rights to not be required to help in our own prosecution much of the time. There are other times we are required to help, and of course if we hold office, this is particularly true.

But something doesn't sit right with non jurists about investigating somebody for something they didn't do (or which isn't wrong) and then punishing them for fighting the investigation. Trump's fans felt the same way when Mueller's report concluded it could not be proven that he colluded with Russia, but that it probably could be proven that he obstructed the investigation into it. The principles of the law make that an equal crime, but people don't feel it in their hearts about somebody they support.

That is what had made these seemingly fact-based questions become more partisan. The truth is we are all corrupt to one degree or another. As much as we declare ourselves to be people of principle, we routinely change our principles to make them match our desired outcome. This gets combined with confirmation bias, that makes us see only the facts that match our preconceptions.

Our fluid moral systems

This has an odd parallel to my recent analysis of robocar morals. There I looked into how we switch between rules-based and results-based morals based on our feelings, and this definitely happens in politics. Republicans like the results they are seeing under Trump -- good economy for many, snarky leftist opponents brought low -- and they switch to results-based morals. Because his attempt to get Ukraine to announce an investigation failed, no harm, no foul. Even when they know the law doesn't work this way.

This allows Trump supporters to overlook his large list of flaws. They actually see most of them, but have turned themselves into consequentialists, accepting them all as long as he still represents those core positive attributes.

To get an impeachment that is not partisan, it is necessary to find some things that Trump's supporters and party loyalists will be willing to see as wrong. It's remarkable how hard that has been. The religious right (except Christianity Today) has tolerated his affairs and other immoralities. It may need to be something as explicit as a break-in.


If the vote on the first article were about whether or not Trump did something wrong (an article of censure, maybe), I think a lot of Republicans would have joined it.

The second article I don't think was justified at all. As you sort of recognize, it's perfectly acceptable to fight against your prosecution, as long as you don't cross certain lines.

Moreover, I think impeachment is at least partly, if not entirely, a political process. As such, there's a very low expectation for good faith adherence to principals over doing whatever it takes to get the consequences you want. Witness the silly loophole-subverting motions "to strike the last word" that (just about?) every member of the House participated in even though not a single one of them actually wanted to strike the last word.

People with too much integrity won't make it in Congress.

Political to be sure. To make it be meaningful you need a path partly away from that. This happened in the era of Nixon. Maybe these days are different enough that it can't happen now.

To be clear, jurists actually do understand why obstruction can be a crime even if the party is innocent. But the public doesn't feel it.

Nixon actually committed a crime, though. As did Clinton, though Clinton's crime was forgiven for much the reason you claim that Republicans are overlooking Trump's "obstruction" (because Clinton was seen as innocent prior to the investigation, though I'm not sure his actions would be seen as innocent today).

In the case of Trump, there's no proof that he did commit a crime. The "obstruction" charges, both of Justice and of Congress, don't hold any water, and the alleged crimes concerning Ukraine weren't proven.

I say this as someone who very much does not like Trump. The Democrats are doing themselves no favors with this impeachment. In fact, they've probably gotten Trump reelected by pushing for it.

Actually, Clinton didn't commit a "high crime," it can be argued. Many people misinterpret "high crimes and misdemeanors" to mean strong examples of those. In fact, what it means is that the crimes and misdemeanors are done by people with high office, and they are done through the use of that office. Clinton lied in a deposition about a private civil matter. That is not actually a high crime, I believe.

On the other hand, what Trump is accused of does seem like a perfect fit for the meaning of a high crime. He used his office to do extortion for political gain (or to get a bribe if you prefer.) But of course we will see many views on that in the senate, as we did in the house.

Clinton did more than just lie in a deposition. Read the two articles of impeachment.

The deposition was about Clinton's abuse of power as governor of Arkansas. The lies and obstruction were about him, while President of United States, having a consensual sexual affair with a 22-year-old intern that some have described as an abuse of power.

All that said, I'm not sure if Clinton's behavior constituted an impeachable offense. Probably not. But I think it's important to point out the fact that unlike Trump, Clinton actually was proven to have obstructed justice.

I don't think what Trump is accused of in the two articles of impeachment are a perfect fit for the meaning of a high crime. If using your office for political gain is impeachable, then every President in history could be impeached. And I suppose that's true. Any President can be impeached. Maybe we should set the bar for impeachment higher. 60% in the House? 2/3 in the House? If not, we might be seeing a President get impeached every single time his or her political opponents have a House majority.

If the Democrats had proven extortion or bribery, then they'd have a case. But they haven't.

What Trump is accused of is a perfect fit for him not being re-elected. Unfortunately, the Democrats are playing their hand so poorly that they very well might even blow that.

Could every President be impeached? Quite possibly. I think congress has turned a blind eye to a lot of stuff that perhaps it should have been sterner on. If President's realized that abusing their power was actually likely to get them tossed out, it might deter these actions a bit.

Trump's actions are not the worst thing any President has done or could do. But they are a direct fit for the class of actions for which this was the punishment. You can debate if wiretapping or auditing opponents is worse. Slowing down the fight against Russia to get a political favour seems pretty bad to me. Oddly, it's perhaps worse that he used such a big club as holding up the aid to get such a small thing, an announcement of an investigation.

I think they picked these articles because they hoped that there was no debating them. Trump admitted it on TV, as did his chief of staff. And he certainly told witnesses not to testify. I think they could have gotten the bribery solicitation pretty solidly too "You want me to release the aid, you have to do me this small favour" is pretty classic bribery. They decided not to go for it.

I don't want every President to be impeached. If we're going to remove a President on a majority vote, we should just have a parliamentary democracy, or some sort of system where the head of the government serves at the pleasure of the legislature. I think our system works better than that. I like having three co-equal branches of government. On the other hand, if we're going to impeach every President and then not remove them, that seems like a huge waste of time.

I think this impeachment (as well as the impeachment of President Clinton) are good examples of why it shouldn't be easy to impeach. Those in the majority will always find something to impeach a President that they don't like on. Fortunately we require a 2/3 majority to remove, and perhaps if Trump gets re-elected it'll become clear in the future that these partisan impeachments are bound to backfire. So maybe there's hope (though it relies on the awful situation where we have four more years of Trump). But we should have learned our lesson from the Clinton impeachment.

I don't think impeachment was meant to be a punishment for committing certain actions. I think it was meant to be used as a political manuever for removing a President when there is an overwhelming majority of support in favor of doing so. There is not an overwhelming majority of support for removing Trump from office. Not among the electorate, and not among the representatives. I think our founders never expected that there would be impeachments in situations where there's no realistic chance of removal from office. One reason they might not have expected that was that there wasn't really an incentive back then, as there wasn't continuous real-time television coverage of Congress. Let alone social media, which has made things much much worse. The repetition of the exact same talking points over and over again by both parties was obviously meant to ingrain these talking points in the minds of the electorate, who would then repeat them ad nauseum to those who avoided watching the live television coverage. Many of those talking points are the same ones you put in your article, and ones that we've discussed here. Each side has a well-designed map of why they're right and why anyone who doesn't agree with them is obviously just brainwashed by partisanship.

"You want me to release the aid, you have to do me this small favour" is not necessarily bribery. If it were, then every public leader is guilty of bribery. If it were, then Joe Biden was guilty of bribery. Bribery requires corrupt intent, and to my knowledge Trump's corrupt intent has not be proven. (It's possible that it was proven and I just am not aware of it, because it was drowned out by all back and forth rhetoric from both parties, mostly repeating the same talking points over and over and little of which focused on the issues that I'd personally find important.)

I think the Democrats had a lot of trouble drafting articles of impeachment. Yes, they wanted something that there was not significantly under debate. But when they stripped down Trump's actions to things that were not significantly under debate, what they were left with was not a crime and was not an impeachable offense. At that point, what choices did they have? They could have, and maybe should have, dropped the impeachment altogether. But that would have looked really bad, so they came up with the impeachment articles they have. Fine, I guess. But the suggestion that Republicans are "just acting out of party loyalty and a sense of self-preservation within their party" for not voting for those articles is, I think, incorrect. In fact, I think that's an accusation that's more fitting of the Democrats that voted for these articles. These articles of impeachment were written to score political points. That much is, I believe, obvious.

They could have put that in. In the constitution, and their discussions leading up to it, they spoke a lot about a President abusing his power, not just one who had lost the confidence of the Senate. They could have easily just written the latter. But there is veto override which works like that.

But it may just have been a show to require the abuse of office.

No, everybody is not guilty of that sort of bribery. The key is that he wants a personal favour. Now, naturally he is making a big point of the fact he said "do us a favour" but we also know he loves the royal "we" and uses it frequently. And people can judge if he wanted the favour for his campaign or for the country. To me there is a strong case he wanted it for himself and his campaign.

I think if the favour had been more clear, like, "get me a tax break on Trump Tower Kiev" nobody would be casting any doubt. Both because that's much more clearly personal, but also, as I have said, because trying to gain election advantage is just part of the game now for politicians, so they don't see it as much of a big favour. It's a favour to the President and to the party as well, after all.

I am less certain that the articles were chosen to score points. A lot of Democrats wanted a lot more articles. They were pushed down, supposedly by Pelosi. I think she didn't want to muddy the waters, rather than get points. She was, like many, against impeachment for a long time. To the Democrats, trying to go after one of their own makes this a much more serious high crime, not for political reasons, but out of altering their impression of what it looks like. Many of them are not Biden fans, after all.

Yes, they could have required a 2/3 vote to impeach. Maybe they should have. After the Clinton and Trump impeachments, I'd definitely support an amendment increasing the requirement to 60%. I don't think it's very interesting talking about the discussions and desires of a bunch of dead guys. Not when it comes to political questions, and impeachment is a political question, as opposed to a question for the judiciary to decide.

Everyone is guilty of the sort of bribery that you initially described. You now are saying that he wanted a personal favor. The thing is, I don't think that was proven. He says he wanted to fight corruption, and I think that's plausible.

Yes, "get me a tax break on Trump Tower Kiev" would have been clear. If that had been the favor I would say that it is proven that he committed an illegal act. If that had been the favor I would say that corrupt intent was proven. But that's not what it was. He asked Ukraine to do an investigation into an organization that I think he truly believed was engaged in corruption. Even if those beliefs are mistaken, even if Trump just believes them because of some conspiracy theory that he read about on some fringe website, I think the fact that he believed them is enough to say that there was no corrupt intent.

Hanlon's Razor says to "never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity." Trump is a conspiracy-believing idiot. You deal with that at the ballot box, not through impeachment. Trying, and failing, to deal with it through impeachment, is only going to fan the flames of the conspiracy theories. Trying, and failing, to deal with it through impeachment, is going to get Trump re-elected.

I think it's laughable that you think the reason Pelosi decided against more articles wasn't based on what she thought would play out in the public in the way that was most beneficial to the Democrats. Yes, she was against impeachment for a long time, at least she said she was. She shouldn't have changed her tune on that, and it's not clear why she did. If the articles weren't chosen to score points, why in the world were they chosen? This impeachment is clearly going to go nowhere. So far Pelosi hasn't even sent it to the Senate. It's symbolic, and nothing more. Just like the Clinton impeachment.

Well, Trump certainly will argue that's what he wanted. I just don't see it, watching Trump as we all have for decades. This is not a man who did this out of a devotion to fighting corruption. This is a corrupt man. Of course, if it really gets down to judging state of mind, proof and certainty are not easy. That's where the history and the witnesses come in -- statements such as (roughly) I don't care about anything but the Bidens.

My personal judgment (which of course is not enough) is that he saw a chance to create a scandal of sorts for Biden, which he would use in the same way he used Clinton's E-mail server (which was probably more real as a scandal.) And he foolishly decided he could make that scandal happening by bringing in Zelinsky. And he foolishly asked while non-politicians were listening, and many of them said, "WTF?" because you don't normally see that sort of thing.

Of course, I did not create this thread to discuss the merits of the case. The issue (in this post at least) is to discuss why they could not sell it very well.

And of course, it is possible they just could not sell it well because the Republicans all believe as you do, that there wasn't a case there to begin with. Sadly, the opinion on that is drawn on strict partisan lines. There are no doubt a few Dems who feel this isn't a great case but stick with party, and others in the mirror state on the GOP side.

Should they have gone after Obstruction of the Russia investigation? After Emoluments? Or even collusion? (Trump has had some success in his narrative on the Mueller report. That report did not exonerate him of course. Rather, in prosecutor's language, it said there was not enough evidence to prove it, which is very far from saying that their view was it didn't happen. But they would then have to prove it and that's not an easy task.)

Or, of course, they could have let it be and worked to win the election. But they suck at that.

They couldn't sell it well because it only really works if you start with the premise that "this is a corrupt man."

Same thing goes for obstruction of justice on the Russia investigation, which apparently even the majority leadership didn't think they a good enough case on. Ditto on emoluments, though that one's even more of a stretch in the first place.

If they could prove collusion, then yeah, impeachment would be justified. They couldn't.

Yes, they suck at winning elections. This push for impeachment is part of that.

But I don't think the Republican charge that this is simply to overturn the election has much truth. Each party would like to overturn any election they lost, or particularly lost closely, but Trump is the first to be impeached by the Democrats since Jackson, though they would have (with Republicans) done Nixon if he had not resigned.

So no, this is clearly special, and the Democrats clearly feel this is much more than overturning the election. Of course they wish they had won the election, they won't be able to stop feeling that, but it doesn't make it the key motive.

It's been clear from "Russia, if you're listening" that Trump does not play by the rules. People have been talking about impeaching him since before he won for that reason.

I don't think they're trying to overturn the election, but only because they have about zero chance of succeeding.

There are a lot of things that have changed relatively recently that has caused this. That Trump "does not play by the rules" is a factor, if by that you mean that he doesn't play by (what used to be) the usual rules of politics (I don't think Trump is any more of a criminal than any of the five presidents before him, except maybe for Obama). Even that I think is a reflection of what politics in the Internet age has become. No one is perfect enough, especially not for the left wing, and Trump is the perfect candidate to thrive in such an environment, because he just denies everything even after you've caught him red-handed.

There are other factors, though. There used to be certain lines that weren't crossed, and one of them is that you don't impeach a President when you have no chance of removing him from office. The Republicans were the first to cross that line, with Clinton. It backfired for them, and if the Democrats were smarter they'd have remembered that.

But that leads to the other thing that's special now. A growing number of Democrats have much more left-wing views than was standard even 10 years ago. And many of them don't really even remember the Clinton impeachment. AOC, who along with her cohorts have essentially left Pelosi with no choice but support impeachment (she wouldn't have done it if there wasn't pressure on her), was barely 9 years old when Clinton was impeached.

Maybe after 8 years of Trump the millennials will grow up and better learn how to play the game of politics. I hope so, because the alternative may be catastrophic.

This whole impeachment thing is a joke. There was nothing impeachable, nor deserving of removal of office. If so, then every president could get the same treatment. Isn't "Obstruction of Congress" something they just made up? They are co-equal branches of government. Congress doesn't get to push around the president, conduct 3 year long investigations when there was no crime being investigated. It was an investigation in search of a crime. If Congress & the president run into a legal issue or disagreement, the constitutional way to resolve it is by the Judicial branch, not impeachment. I also disagree that this was all about Trump getting dirt on Biden for the upcoming 2020 election cycle. Trump's not afraid of running against Biden. He doesn't need any more dirt. He prays that Biden gets the nomination, because he knows how badly Biden would lose. This call was more about the 2016 election and all the shenanigans that went on; interference from the Russians and Ukraine, the Steele dossier, CrownStrike, lying to the FISA court, spying on people in Trump's election campaign, etc... Barr's investigation may get to the bottom of some of it, but only if they get cooperation such as from Ukrainian officials. The impeachment was set into motion from day 1, it counted on the Russian Collusion Hoax and Mueller report. When that failed, the Democrats had to quickly make up new charges. It's all about how much they hate Trump, not about any facts.

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