If impeachment is not an option, how can we leverage the power of ideas to ensure that Donald Trump does not win another four years in office?
Do we want Donald Trump’s finger on the red button?
Ever since Donald Trump was inaugurated, it has increasingly seemed as though we are living in a unstable, dystopian world. The most pressing issue by far is Trump’s cavalier attitude to the North Korean threat. The New York billionaire engaged in a war of words with Kim Jong Un, labelling him, among other things, a ‘madman’ and vowing to rain down ‘fire and fury’ on North Korea should it threaten the United States.
Kim Jong Un is indeed a madman; he has tortured thousands of his own people. But sabre-rattling at an unstable state that has strived to become one of the world’s nuclear powers for years flies in the face of good diplomacy, as it exacerbates tensions.
In response, Kim Jong-Un himself, according to ABC News, has warned that Trump will ‘pay dearly’ for his threats. North Korea has shown its willingness to use nuclear weapons recently, by mounting ever ambitious nuclear tests – including launching a missile over Japan – and promising a ‘Nuclear Holocaust’ for its enemies.
“The one man who has the power to green light the use of America’s nuclear arsenal is Donald J. Trump – a president whose temper is so hair-trigger thin that he launches Twitter rants against media outlets he believes have insulted him weekly”
A track record of domestic disaster
Trump’s escalating war of words with Kim Jong Un may be the most pressing reason rational people want him out of office, but it is far from the only one. Since he became President, Donald Trump has managed to be an utter disaster on domestic issues. He has rolled back free birth control, refused to condemn white supremacists, banned transgender individuals from the US military, and proposed healthcare reform that would leave millions without coverage.
Trump’s biggest foreign policy misstep by far, however, came when he announced the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. This drew fierce condemnation from world leaders and angered millions by ending the US’ commitment to fight what many say is the planet’s most pressing problem.
From his baffling cosiness with Russia and his appointment of racists to important political positions, to his inability to pass any significant legislation in a Congress controlled by his own party, his administration has been a debacle. An increasing number of people, even some of those who voted for him, want Trump out of office.
But doing so will be hard, if not impossible right now.
There’s only one way to legally remove a US President from office and that is impeachment. For this to happen, the lower house of the US legislative branch, the House of Representatives, has to approve an ‘article of impeachment’, which proposes that the President be removed from office. The President is then subjected to a trial in the upper house, the Senate, who then vote on whether to remove him from office, and they must do so by a supermajority (two-thirds) for it to be successful.
Considering that both Houses must be involved in the process, and that one has to approve by a significant margin, it’s incredibly hard to remove a US President from office. There are only certain instances in which a President can be removed.
Under article 11, section 4 of the US Constitution, a President can be removed from office if he is guilty of ‘treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.’ Only two US Presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – have been impeached and neither was removed, illustrating how vague the criteria for this actually is.
Is it an option?
Would Donald Trump be eligible for impeachment? Probably.
It looks as though Trump has defied the ‘emoluments’ clause of the US Constitution, which forbids a President from taking gifts, e.g. money, from a foreign government. In June, a lawsuit was filed by the Attorneys General of the District of Columbia and Maryland claiming that Trump’s business had accepted payments from foreign governments in order to fund the construction of his hotel in Washington D.C. As he has retained ownership of the business while in office, the suit claims, he created a conflict of interest and broke the clause.
Some also argue he is guilty of treason, as Donald Trump has argued for closer ties with Russia and possibly even colluded with the country. According to the US intelligence community, Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 election in order to secure Trump as President by hacking Democratic party online systems and leaking unflattering emails written by his opponent. Trump supposedly looked into lifting the sanctions placed on Russia by the US for its actions in Ukraine days after taking office, suggesting he is guilty of treason by representing Russian interests over those of the US in a quid pro quo deal with the Kremlin.
“Some also argue he is guilty of treason, as Donald Trump has argued for closer ties with Russia and possibly even colluded with the country”
The FBI eventually launched an investigation of the Trump campaign and administration’s ties to Russia. This resulted in the revelation that top level Trump associates, such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, held undisclosed meetings with senior Russian officials. Donald Trump decided to fire the director of the FBI, James Comey, in May and it eventually emerged that he did so because of the Russia investigation. Not only does this bolster the case for treason, but it also gives further grounds for impeachment – obstruction of justice.
Survival instinct and party loyalties
There are certainly people in Congress who believe there are legal grounds to remove Trump from office. The Independent reports that a Democrat in the House of Representatives filed articles of impeachment against Donald Trump in June, but they died on the floor. Why? There was no way that a House of Representatives controlled by his own party would ever endorse them. Furthermore, even if they had, a Senate controlled by his own party would never remove the President from office.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. The Republican party may loathe Trump but they’re unlikely to impeach him. This is not due to misguided loyalty – many Republicans would love to see Trump removed from office and replaced by his Vice President Mike Pence – with whom they have far more in common. It’s because the rank and file members of the Republican party – those who choose the GOP’s candidates for political office – still largely support Trump. To back impeachment would be to put their own jobs at risk the next time the party holds votes to determine election candidates.
Could this change if the Democrats take control of both Houses in the 2018 Congressional elections? Almost certainly. But it’s unlikely the Democrats will win.
The districts that make up the House of Representatives were manipulated by Republicans in 2010 – districts are redrawn every decade – to favour the GOP. The balance of power in these districts is delicate, as the GOP voter majority is slim in many, so the Democrats could take back the lower house with a deeply unpopular President – like Trump – in the Oval Office. But 2018 is a bad year for Democrats in the Senate; there aren’t many viable seats they could win up for re-election, so winning back the upper house would be much harder.
Question of sanity – invoking the 25th
There is one other way a US President can be removed. Congress can invoke the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, which basically states that if the President doesn’t have the capacity (mental or physical) to do the job, they should be replaced by the Vice President.
There is certainly cause to doubt Donald Trump’s mental health; just look at his cavalier attitude towards North Korea. But the 25th is unlikely to be invoked anytime soon. Pence’s political fortunes depend on Trump and he would have to agree to the measure. The Vice President has stood doggedly by Donald Trump so far, so there’s no reason to suggest he would make such a radical about-face.
This leads us to the conclusion that there are no legal means open to us that we could use to remove Donald Trump from office in the near future. The first chance won’t present itself until the 2020 general election, when Trump’s first four-year term limit in the Oval Office expires.
From a rational perspective, it looks as though the billionaire is almost certainly set to lose. His approval ratings are lower than any other president’s have been at this point in their first term (32%), so it shouldn’t be an issue.
But Donald Trump is no ordinary president. The man’s policies, especially xenophobic ones like banning people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, may seem abhorrent to most of us. But we’re not the audience Trump’s playing to.
The property mogul was propelled to the White House by the Republican base. They made him the GOP standard-bearer, setting him up to win in the general election. Donald Trump has done enough since entering office, even if he has broken some of his major pledges, like his vow to label China a ‘currency manipulator’, to pacify this crowd.
The President may have an abysmal 32% approval rating among the general public, but his approval rating among Republicans is 60%. Over the last few months reports have confirmed that the President’s approval rating among the GOP base itself has hovered around the 38% mark, so they’re likely to back him in 2020.
We should also note that a) 2020 is a long way away, so we don’t know how popular Trump will be then and b) American presidents often win a second term, so our chances of beating him in 2020 are far from assured.
‘Draining the swamp’ all the way to the White House
So how do we defeat a man like this?
We get the right candidate.
After the release of that infamous Access Hollywood tape, which showed him bragging about sexually assaulting women, he should have lost. But his opponents, the Democratic Party, chose a centrist candidate whom many people despised almost as much as they loathe Trump: Hillary Clinton.
This is a woman who backed the Iraq War, flip-flopped on gay marriage, and gave paid speeches to Wall Street executives, indicating she cares more about big business than the little guy, a stance which flies in the face of the leftist values Democrats are supposed to espouse.
Clinton lost the election because she was seen as an agent of the establishment. We’re living in a time when people are still suffering from the aftermath of the Global Recession, which was caused by the developed world’s financial elite, so she was never going to win when she had such a cosy relationship with Wall Street – who were major donors to her campaign.
And it won him the White House.
What worries me is that the Democrats seem to have learned nothing from Hillary Clinton’s loss. Yes, they have set themselves up as the ‘resistance’ to Trump by opposing his more outlandish policies, such as his attempt to reform healthcare. But the Democratic party is still controlled by establishment figures such as Nancy Pelosi, who has been the top party member in the House of Representatives for years, suggesting that the establishment has kept its grip on power. That won’t appeal to voters who are sick of politics as usual. Their obstinacy could keep Trump in office past 2020.
“The Democratic party is still controlled by establishment figures”
Plight of the Democrats – is the Left out of touch?
The Democrats have proven themselves unwilling to carry out the will of the people, or to represent their best interests. It was a Democrat, for example, who lifted the Glass-Steagall Act in the 1990s, allowing financial institutions to merge commercial and investment banking operations. This created banks that were ‘too big to fail’, forcing the US government to bail them out after the Global Economic Crash of 2007 – 2008, an incident the banks themselves largely caused, breeding resentment towards the Democrats.
The Democrats also proved themselves unwilling to fight the tough fights. During Barack Obama’s first term, when he was pushing through healthcare reform, the Democrats failed to back a single-payer system like the one many developed nations have, leaving the American people to operate in a private, if government subsidised, system. 60% of the US populace believes the government should ensure healthcare for all Americans. So they missed a major opportunity to win public backing here.
Battle of ideas
This brings us to my main point. We can counter Trump by championing better ideas.
Take gun control.
There are mass shootings regularly in the US and a vast majority of the population, among them GOP voters, back sensible gun control measures. But the GOP refuses to do anything, and although the Democrats do want to reform gun laws, they don’t have the power.
If the Democrats made gun control a key issue in the next election, they’d have a much better chance of winning in a climate where the public largely agrees with them – even with anti-gun control lobby the NRA fighting against them.
Gun control is a fairly mainstream issue, so let’s look at something where the Democratic Party is out-of-step with leftist voters: free college education, which has been championed to great effect by left-leaning politicians like US Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Figures show that a majority of the US public backs free college education. They don’t want to pay more taxes to fund this measure, but in a country with the largest military budget in the world, the government could find ways to ensure they didn’t have to. This indicates that by abandoning the political middle they’ve inhabited for so long and embracing popular leftist ideas, the Democrats could beat Trump.
“By abandoning the political middle they’ve inhabited for so long and embracing popular leftist ideas, the Democrats could beat Trump”
The best candidate
It is possible, therefore, to beat Donald Trump. We will not be able to achieve this aim quickly, however, and the political left will have to show that it has better ideas, ones that the US public already supports, to win in 2020.
It is absolutely key that the Democrats pick the right candidate in 2020. Pick a Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders, whose opinions mirror those of the American people, and Trump will be a one-term President. Pick an establishment centrist like Hillary Clinton who’s out of touch with public opinion, then Donald Trump will have four more years to wreak havoc.