Impeachment = reform of our antique political system

Summary: For a minute forget the personalities and politics of Trump vs. Democrats, and look at this as a historical evolution. Impeaching Trump is a step towards reforming America’s 18th-century constitutional regime, making it more like modern parliamentary systems. The occasional impeachment of Presidents would make Congress into the power center the Founders intended it to be – and stop the growth of an imperial presidency.

Impeachment buttons

In the early 1980s Bruce Ackerman (Prof Law, Yale) studied the process of constitutional change in America. He found an informal method of evolution other than the formal processes specified in the Constitution. He called this “higher lawmaking.” After 230 years of higher lawmaking, America’s political regime bears little resemblance to the Founders’ design. Presidents’ actions have hammered our government into a new form.

“This process is slow, normally taking hundreds of years. But occasionally political evolution leaps forward.”
— A slight tweak of Professor Xavier’s words from the title sequence of the film X-men (2000).

On 2 March 1781, the Republic version 1.0 was born, as Maryland ratified the Articles of Confederation, making it the basis of the revolutionary government.

On 21 June 1788 version 2.0 of the Republic was born, as New Hampshire ratified the Constitution — replacing the Articles (ignoring the Articles provisions for amendment).

On 9 April 1865 General Lee surrendered, ending the 4 year long birth throes of version 2.1 of the Republic.

On 2 September 1945 the Empire of Japan surrendered, ending the 12 year long birth throes of version 2.2 of the Republic (the New Deal and WWII mobilization).

On 11 September 2011 al Qaeda attacked America, giving Bush Jr the opportunity to initiate massive changes in US domestic and foreign policy. Obama ratified and expanded these changes, taking two giant steps beyond Bush’s.

  • Obama explicitly authorized assassinations (his “kill list”). He then took a giant step towards tyranny by authorizing the assassination of a US citizen without trial or even warrant. See the details here. This violated not only American law, but also Magna Carta. This might be the most serious Presidential “innovation” in our history. This was an obvious basis for impeachment.
  • Obama explicitly broke the Constitution by not submitting the Paris Agreement for Senate approval. No other democracy, no other developed nation, no other major nation, allowed one person to commit it to such a massive undertaking. This might be the largest Presidential “innovation” in our history. See the details of this sad story.

As with the previous transitions, the magnitude of these changes will become obvious only slowly. This might be the largest transformation of all, perhaps ending with America 2.3. If other presidents build upon them, we might have America 3.0.

Each of these actions bent the Constitution. The result was a massive expansion of presidential power, beyond anything imagined by the Founders. Eventually a President will take one step too far – bending the Constitution until it breaks.

The American people have shown themselves willing to accept these incremental expansions of presidential power. Frogs jump from a pan of warming water before it boils; people are not that smart – and will tolerate slow changes that produce awful results. Nor do elections restrain the discretionary exercise of presidential power. A president can do a lot of damage in four years (as President Buchanan proved). That leaves Congress’ power of impeachment as the outer boundary to Presidential power.

Why we should worry.

Much of America’s social change since WWII results from elites’ recognition that they can break the informal norms that govern their behavior. Doctors can practice medicine as a business and become rich. CEOs can arrange corporations to pay themselves fantastic sums and so become plutocrats. Elected representatives can arrange to become almost permanent fixtures, and retire wealthy. All of these changes seemed impossible before they happened. Then each group realized that the social norms that constrained them were just paper shackles.

Slowly presidents are realizing that too are constrained only by paper shackles. Bush Jr. (or perhaps VP Cheney) realized that, and exploited the president’s power to radically change America.

Time for structural reform: impeachment.

The Democrats have given 86 reasons to impeach Trump, starting on inaugural day. Some are serious and some imaginary, but none are as significant as Obama’s violations of the Constitution. The obvious reason to impeach Trump in his last year of office is to influence the 2020 election. They have taken the second step to making impeachment – and trial in the Senate – a purely political joust. The GOP’s impeachment of Clinton was the first attempt. The next will be even easier. Eventually an attempt will succeed. After that, presidents will be removed if they lose the confidence of Congress. This would make America’s governmental structure similar to the parliamentary system used by almost all other republics (being smart, few nations have copied America’s).

To better understand this, let’s turn to someone from a nation with a longer history. He sees the Constitution more clearly because distance gives perspective and allows a dispassionate analysis. Baranger shows that we can interpret the Constitution’s 175 words describing the impeachment process in many ways. They give Congress a powerful stick to use against presidents. He explains that purely political impeachment could restore the lost balance to our political system. A new kind of balance.

Impeachment clauses and the different meanings
of ‘constitution’ in the United States of America

By Denis Baranger.
From Responsibility of the Head of State (La responsabilité du chef de l’État).
Volume 12 of the Colloques Collection (October 2009).
Slightly paraphrased for clarity. Links added.

Interpreting the impeachment clauses.

In the 1787 Constitution, lawyers identify a series of provisions known as ‘impeachment clauses’ {4 of them, listed here}. These include Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution with which it is customary to begin. This text provides that ‘The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’.

The best starting point is observing that the Constitution creates a removal procedure without specifying whether it is ‘criminal’, ‘political’ or whatever else. The constitution is silent about the nature of the procedure. …I will outline three series of problems of interpretation posed by the impeachment clauses: (1) Who can be subjected to impeachment? (2) To what extent and in what way does the Constitution determine the behaviour of those who intend to bring an accusation? (3) What does ‘removal’ mean? …

{The answers} cannot be deduced from the impeachment clauses themselves, but arise from a sort of interpretive convention. Such conventions are very common in impeachment law. It might even be said that this law is paved exclusively either with questions for which there are no answers or with answers consisting only in stating such constructive conventions. Controversy has arisen over just about every possible question, with each party being able to assert reasonable arguments. …

There seems to {agreement} that impeachable acts are limited to {offenses} of criminal law …Except for ‘Treason’, which is defined elsewhere in the Constitution …there is no principle of strict definition of offences. …the founding fathers did not grant an unlimited power to impeach and condemn, but a limited one. …We cite Madison’s criticism of Mason’s proposal to extend removal to take in ‘maladministration’: ‘so vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate’. …In 1970 Gerald Ford declared:

“An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history; conviction results from whatever offense or offenses two-thirds of the other body considers to be sufficiently serious to require removal of the accused from office.” (Ford was speaking in the House on 15 April 1970, as recorded in the Congressional Record.)

Impeachment as a form of constitutional accountability.

…Political accountability in parliamentary regimes is a test of the agreement in political views between the executive and parliament. It is a governmental accountability. Who will govern and how?

This is where presidential impeachments take on a special prominence. Because of the President’s central constitutional mission, because he takes an oath to abide by and uphold the Constitution, the accusations that may entail his removal must bring out the character of his relation with the Constitution. They must state what the holder of the presidential office must or must not do. This is a form of what Bruce Ackerman has called ‘higher lawmaking’. Each impeachment is a new opportunity to state the Constitution. Conversely, resort to impeachment is a danger for the state and its stability. …

The kind of accountability in impeachment procedure is a ‘constitutional’ one. By ‘constitutional accountability’ I mean that which is incurred for calling into question the constitutional equilibrium. That appears in the impeachment articles passed by the House of Representatives against Johnson, Nixon and Clinton. In all these instances, the President was criticized for violating the Constitution: by ignoring the obligation it imposed (especially ‘that he should take care that the laws be faithfully executed’); by ignoring his oath of office by which he undertakes to uphold the Constitution; or by a more general formula observing that he has acted ‘in violation of the Constitution and laws of the United States.’

————————————————–

America's Constitution

Conclusions

The remainder of Baranger’s essay discusses the meaning of violating the constitution, the clashing authority of Congress and the President to determine what the Constitution says, and the inevitable involvement of values and morality in determining what violates the words of the Constitution. It is valuable reading for those who want to understand what might lie ahead.

The requirement for a super-majority in the Senate means that it will always be rare to remove a president. But political impeachment would change the balance of power between Congress and the President. This might restrain the growth of presidential power and create a firmer foundation for the Republic.

In the first two comments are more notes from history about the Imperial Presidency vs. Congress and the Courts.

Abstract of Baranger’s paper

“The purpose of the present article is not to review all the aspects of executive accountability in the United States. Rather, I will attempt to make a few steps towards a better understanding of the removal procedure applicable, among others, to the President of the United States and that is commonly termed ‘impeachment’.

“Impeachment is central to the Constitution, exerting both an attractive and an inhibitive effect. It is attractive because the political will to hold the President accountable must fit into the mould of impeachment. It is inhibitive because impeachment has such solemnity that it is not an instrument for everyday use. Lawyers consider impeachment as a procedure of an exceptional nature.”

Denis Baranger

About the author

Denis Baranger is professor of Public law at Panthéon-Assas University and a fellow of the Institut universitaire de France. He graduated from Panthéon-Assas, as well as Sciences-Po Paris and the University of Cambridge. He specializes in French and comparative constitutional law, history of political thought.”  {From his University profile.}

Follow him on Twitter at @DenisBaranger. See his Wikipedia entry and his books (both in French).

For More Information

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon.

The best summary I have seen of UkraineGate: “A Weak Whistleblower, a Ridiculous Impeachment” by Peter van Buren at The American Conservative – “This isn’t about the law; it’s about circumventing another vote by the deplorables in 2020.”

About the mechanics of impeachment.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the Constitution, about ways to reform America, about Trump and the new populism, about Russiagate, and especially these…

  1. Why do Democrats want to impeach Trump?
  2. The amazing Trump-Ukraine-Whistleblower story in a nutshell.
  3. The best analysis of RussiaGate: its effects & results – By Emmet T. Flood, special counsel to the President.
  4. Reviewing “Ball of Collusion”, the big book of 2019 about RussiaGate.

Recommended books about the Republic.

The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic by Eric Posner, professor of law at U of Chicago. He wants an imperial presidency. He wants to put us on the fast track to fall of the Constitution.

Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide by Cass R. Sunstein, professor of law at Harvard (2017). A measured and comprehensive look at this critical and seldom discussed (until recently) subject.

Executive Unbound
Available at Amazon.
Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide
Available at Amazon.

31 thoughts on “Impeachment = reform of our antique political system”

  1. Presidents vs. Congress

     
    The growth of presidential power has often created clashes with Congress. But Americans like bold leaders – if the results are good – so these Presidents won their conflicts.

    Strict constructionists and believers in a small Federal government believed Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase to be unconstitutional. Jefferson himself thought it was unconstitutional. Many said, with good reason, that Jefferson would have stopped the deal if his opponents had done it.

    Elected on a peace platform while preparing for war, FDR broke the 1930s Neutrality Acts. Actions such as the ironically named Neutrality Patrol were interventions to help Britain.

    To fight an unpopular war, in June 1950 Truman committed US troops to the Korea without Congressional authorization (details here).

    Congress passed the 3 Boland Amendments in 1982 – 1984 to limit US aid to the Contra insurgents in Nicaragua. Reagan ignored them, leading to the Iran-Contra Affair. The Democrats in Congress gave him a hard time about this, but he skated by without penalty.

  2. A future inevitable cage match: the Presidency vs. the Supreme Court

     
    In the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), the Supreme Court declared itself an equal of the other two branches of government – giving itself the power to declare laws and presidential acts to be unconstitutional. Since the Courts have become a presence in every Presidential action. This power is not given in the Constitution. Presidents have challenged it, but the Justices have avoided a terminal confrontation. It will come, eventually. Only one (at most) can win.

    In 1832 the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon on Cherokee land (Worcester v. Georgia). President Jackson allegedly said “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!” He said something less pithy: “The decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that they cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.” The ruling did not order Jackson to enforce it. If it had, American history might have taken a different course.

    Starting in April 1861 Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in some areas, a power specifically granted to Congress in Article I of the Constitution. He ignored Court orders to stop, including one by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Courts did not press the matter. Congress retroactively approved his actions in March 1863.

    FDR said he would defy the Supreme Court if it ruled against the 1933 resolution by Congress ending gold convertibility. The Court did so in Perry v. United States (1935), but also denied the bondholders’ claims for relief. So FDR let it slide.

  3. The American Muse

    My immediate impression is that if Trump is impeached, it would completely split america, perhaps leading to riots and demonstrations, perhaps worse. Things are divided enough already, and as you’ve mentioned elsewhere, Trump has enough of a rabid fanbase to assure support of at least a part of the electorate. Furthermore, I would think that this would simply mean the democrats would use the power of impeachment against republicans, and vise versa. It would just mean more tribalism, more us vs them, and further power struggles as whichever side is in power can and will threaten the other side.

    Now, I’m no political theorist. I have no degree, and I’ve only seen so much of this earth. But, like I said, this is my gut impression. I would be very happy to be proven wrong, if impeachment did come to pass and Congress takes up the reins of power again, BIPARTISAN -LY (Is there a word for that?)

    1. The American Muse,

      (1) “if Trump is impeached, it would completely split america, perhaps leading to riots and demonstrations, perhaps worse.”

      Nobody cares if Trump is impeached by the House. Any more than they did when Bill Clinton was (he was much more popular than Trump). You probably mean if Trump was convicted by the Senate and removed from office. First, the GOP-dominated Senate is unlikely to pass a 2/3 “guity” vote.

      Second, Trump’s core support is probably at most 15% of the population (ie, 20% of adult voters). After all, his total “positive” poll numbers are 35 – 40%. That might drop as a result of the impeachment circus. Lots of dirt about Trump to show.

      Third and more important, I doubt the America of passive apathetic “citizens” can muster the energy you expect. It is a popular fantasy of Americans to dream of the Great Day When They Arise – Guns In Hand – and Smite Their Enemies. This is a way to retain self-respect as we realize, deep down, that our apathy has put the skids under the Republic.

  4. In this case;

    In simple terms, it’s dirty politics and no quid pro quo. The show must go on, total waste of time (maybe).

    Barr is the next act.

  5. Using Obama as the primary example is probably not such a good idea, inasmuch as he was likely the most corrupt president we ever had (in his utter disregard for the Constitution). On other fronts, you should be careful what you wish for. It sounds like you are expressing a preference for a European model. Odd that, as Europe is pretty much in free fall. Why go there?

    And the idea of shifting any sort of power to Congress. That’s brilliant. The most corrupt class of imbeciles on the planet and they’re going to save us from an Imperial presidency? And not a word about the Deep State. Now that is a problem. How a group of unelected, highly-paid, “public servants” can twist the dials of government to do anything they want. And they can’t be stopped!

    Sort of just the way the EU works. We need that kind of political model in America like we need more cancer.

    1. Titan,

      “Odd that, as Europe is pretty much in free fall. Why go there?”

      I doubt that the parliamentary structure of their government is the problem. People matter much more than the conceptual structure.

      “The most corrupt class of imbeciles on the planet”

      That is bizarrely wrong. First, getting into Congress requires immense skill and smarts. It’s a popular affectation of Americans, every hick thinks he could do it. Staying there is even more difficult. The incompetent are weeded out fast.

      Second, they are no more corrupt than the people who elect them. A member of Congress gets paid $174,000, roughly the average pay of family practitioners, pediatricians, and psychiatrists. Surgeons and other specialists can made 2x that, as can senior execs at medium companies. Congress votes on the spending of tens of billions of dollars, and we feel smart by paying them so little.

      So they get their compensation elsewhere. Good luck finding people who would do otherwise.

      1. I take Mark Twain’s view of congress. You have a far rosier view of them than I do. Yes, getting into congress takes a certain kind and amount of ability. But smarts? Maybe your definition is a tad looser than mine. Eric Swalwell? I happen to know Ed Markey. A dumber tool was never invented. Billy Bulger, then speaker of the MA house, said of Markey: “to the battle of wits, he comes empty-handed.”

        I also regard lawyers as the least ethical people on the planet (I have a high regard for engineers and medical professionals). So, no. You have an almost idealistic view of our congress critters. They are sociopaths, and second-rate sociopaths at that.

        Also, they are far more corrupt than the people who elect them. Now, I may have a broader view of corruption than you. Cashing in after you leave congress to take a job with a company you used to help regulate, after you tilted some legislation their way, is corrupt. But it is legal.

        As George Washington Plunkitt, a Boss Tweed functionary, said: “There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works.”

        I think our institutions in Washington are beyond repair.

        Sidebar: you look at what Parliament is pulling in the UK and you say the parliamentary structure of their government isn’t the problem?

        Really?

      2. Titan,

        You view of Congress’ people’s skill is silly, but common. It is one of the most competitive jobs on the planet. It’s much like the fans in the stands belief that they could be a good NFL quarterback.

        “They are sociopaths, and second-rate sociopaths at that.”

        That might be true. It certainly is true for our senior corporate executives. That’s how our system works. Remember, we elect them. When you sneer at them – you are passing judgement on us.

        “you look at what Parliament is pulling in the UK and you say the parliamentary structure of their government isn’t the problem?”

        This is another typical American delusion: belief that there is some arrangement of political institutions that produces good results, like gumballs when you put a penny in the slot. It’s just political machinery. The results it produces depends on the people. The UK system has worked quite well for centuries. Its people have recently gone bonkers. No system can correct for that.

        Also, almost every democracy uses some form of parliamentary system. Your observation is like looking at a car crash and condemning cars as a transportation medium.

      3. “First, getting into Congress requires immense skill and smarts.”

        My knee jerk reaction has been checked, and now I am asking an honest question … Can you explain the immense skill and smarts of a 29 year old bartender getting into congress by way of (what amounts to) a casting call?

      4. citizen,

        “a 29 year old bartender getting into congress by way of (what amounts to) a casting call?”

        Is age and job an indicator of worthlessness? What kind of revolutionary mathematics is possible from a 24-year-old patent clerk (Einstein)? Is it possible for a 20-year-old kid to be an excellent general (Galusha Pennypacker)? There are countless examples from history.

        She got into Congress by election. Calling that a “casting call” insults the voters. Perhaps you consider yourself a higher species than them (if so, congrats!). In any case, she won 57% of the vote against a highly supported incumbent. If you think that’s easy – you do it, and then report back on your success.

    2. Yes, the author of this article is clearly clueless, either astonishingly ignorant, or deceptive by design?

  6. I submit that this article doesn’t even touch upon the well documented reality of what is taking place here. This is in fact a coup attempt by an extremist cabal if profoundly immoral criminal sociopaths.
    If you want some robust evidence, it can be very easily found at numerous high quality sites, one of which is at the ‘conservative treehouse’. An individual known as SUNDANCE.
    Check it out or keep your head in the sand.
    Your choice.

    1. Robert,

      “I submit that this article doesn’t even touch upon the well documented reality of what is taking place here.”

      This is a historical perspective. The specifics of Trump are irrelevant.

      “This is in fact a coup attempt”

      I suggest that you read this post.

      “by an extremist cabal if profoundly immoral criminal sociopaths.”

      Wow. Classic modern American tribalism, a delusional view of the “other” side. That’s how we get Trump derangement syndrome, and Obama derangement syndrome, etc. This irrationality – a disinterest in seeing the world accurately – makes us easy to govern. Like emotional dumb sheep.

      1. Mr. Kummer,

        I’m mostly with Robert on this issue. And I hardly think he’s delusional.

        I would argue that one of the things that’s going on in America is a drop in the quality of people who are drawn to government, and by drop I mean morally, intellectually and experientially. The vast lot of them have only ever worked in government. This is a problem.

        I would say your analogy of a fan dreaming of being an NFL QB being analogous to being a congress critter collapses under its own impertinent weight.

        You and I seem to be coming at this issue from vastly different perspectives. I view government as a necessary evil. I do not, nor does Robert, have a delusional view of the other side. The other side is progressive socialism. The other side is what Orwell describes in 1984.

        Either you understand the nature of that beast or you don’t.

        It’s all about power. You cite the $174K these representatives make as too low for their abilities. Maxine Waters? Eliz. Warren? Paul Ryan (who is now cashing in)?

        The reason they never want to leave DC is because it’s the best job they ever had, and for the best money. In the real world, they’d be soda jerks.

        We perhaps do agree on the notion that voters get the government they deserve.

        Here’s a sidebar question: if politicians are so smart, why have they signed on to RPS? Even idiots know that solar and wind will never replace fossil fuels (which is not to say they shouldn’t be dialed down).

        Why do politicians believe they can?

      2. Titan,

        Fret away about the choices of your fellow citizens. Condemn as lesser than yourself those who have triumphed in the competitive field of politics. Dream of the world in which you rule. Whatever makes you happy.

        Or you might listen to the words of Teddy Roosevelt from his speech about “Citizenship in a Republic“, given at the Sorbonne in Paris on 23 April 1910.

        “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

  7. The Man Who Laughs

    Larry, I clicked on you link for 86 reasons the Democrats have given to impeach Trump, and it took me to a discussion of demographics.

    I suspect that the main reason boils down to “Because he’s there”. If you actually need 86 reasons, then it might suggest that none of them is particularly good, and none of them is the real reason.

  8. The world is divided into two: those who think that constitution does not give them enough power, and those who think that it is not binding enough. The French liberals were the former in 2001, and the latter in 2002, after their unexpected defeat.

    The 5th French Republic has become very American, especially with the referendum of 2002. The previous “4th Republic” (your wishes) was hated by all, because a majority was very difficult to maintain.

    Be careful with big change : Bi partisanism will not last long. Or the United S.

    1. amike,

      I can’t make heads or tales of your comment.

      “The world is divided into two:”

      Quite so. Those who think the world is divided into two groups, and those who think that is a gross (but sometime useful) simplification.

      “those who think that constitution does not give them enough power, and those who think that it is not binding enough.”

      That’s quite false. Surveys show that a large fraction of the US public believes that the US Constitution strikes a good balance.

      “The 5th French Republic has become very American, especially with the referendum of 2002.”

      I’d like to hear some expert opinion on that. A cosmopolitian experienced politican, or a political scientist. That seems unlikely to me, esp. considering the fundamentally different government structures and political traditions of the US and France. Perhaps more accurate would be “France has become a little more like America”.

      “The previous “4th Republic” (your wishes)”

      What does that mean, “your wishes”?

      “Be careful with big change”

      True. But systems have to change in order to survive. The US system has changed relatively little, considering that America today is radically unlikely that of 1790. Better advice would be “make careful incremental changes, not a batch of large ones.”

      “Bi partisanism will not last long.”

      What “bipartisanship”? US politics are more polarized than usual now, although less so than previous peaks.

  9. “…the same constituted authorities in whom the treaty-making power is vested have a constitutional right to sanction the acquisition of territory.”
    — Letter by Albert Gallatin to Jefferson, 13 January 1803.

    I agree that POTUS can enter into any treaties he so desires, but the Senate must approve them, and the House of Representatives must appropriate the monies therefore.

    Regarding the constitutionality of purchasing other territory, widely respected congressmen and others (don’t remember their names) stated that expanding our country’s borders did not require the passage of an amendment, because that act is historically well within the powers of any national government.

    This quote by Ford just reveals his lack of knowledge concerning the parameters governing impeachment, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history;…”

    1. Chad,

      “Regarding the constitutionality of purchasing other territory, widely respected congressmen and others (don’t remember their names) stated that expanding our country’s borders did not require the passage of an amendment, ”

      Thomas Jefferson disagreed with you. What is your point? Also, I added the citation to your quotation, since not one in a million would recognize it.

      “This quote by Ford just reveals his lack of knowledge concerning the parameters governing impeachment”

      I don’t know your stature as a constitutional law scholar, but most agree with Ford – not you.

      1. Robert,

        (1) Nothing Trump has done is imo remotely as serious as Obama’s actions.

        (2) As Baranger says, the 175 words in the Constitution about impeachment provide little guidance. It is, as Ford said, fundamentally a political process. That is, it is determined by the norms of America at that time.

        (3) Impeachment roughly 8 months or less before the election is a blatantly political act – unless the grounds for impeachment are burning hot. Trump’s are not, imo.

        (4) An example of warranted impeachment is in Tom Clancy’s Sum of All Fears. There the President gets pissed off and orders an Iranian city nuked. Jack Ryan (deputy director of the CIA), volunteers to give the “second man” confirmation order.

        Ryan looked at his President, then leaned down to the microphone. He struggled for the breath to speak. ‘CINC-SAC, this is John Patrick Ryan. I am DDCI.’ Jack paused, then went on quickly: ‘Sir, I do not confirm this order. I repeat, General, this is NOT a valid launch order. Acknowledge at once!’

        ‘Sir, I copy negative approval of the order.’

        That is correct,’ Jack said, his voice growing stronger. ‘General, it is my duty to inform you that in my opinion the President is not, I repeat NOT in command of his faculties. I urge you to consider that if another launch order is attempted.’ …

        The Commander-in-Chief Strategic Air Command had to think for a moment. He couldn’t remember if Congress was in session or not, but that was beside the point. He ordered his communications officer to place a call to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House armed-services committees. When all four were on line, they’d stage a conference call with the Vice President, who was still aboard Kneecap.

        Calls from the guy commanding most of America’s nuclear weapons always get put through immediately. Needless to say, the President was gone the next day.

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