POLITICS
04/28/2017 09:44 am ET Updated Apr 28, 2017

Dreaming Of Impeachment? Be Careful What You Wish For.

Even the author of "The Case For Impeachment" hopes it doesn't come to that.

Tradition dictates that a president’s 100th day in office is supposed to touch off a period of evaluation and reflection. Now, it’s President Donald Trump’s turn to face this landmark moment.

Let’s be honest, these “100 days” judgments can seem awfully premature. Big legislative projects can take significant amounts of time ― the implementation of those policies even longer. And the truly defining moments of a presidency could occur at any moment. There’s a sense that the “First 100 Days” rubric has become more of a media trope ― and you can tell by the way occupants of the Trump White House have responded with waves of contradictory P.R. that on some level, they agree.

Something about this 100-day marker has got Trump shook, desperate to get something major in just under the wire. Perhaps any honest accounting of how things have gone for the young administration is enough to cause consternation.

But there’s a lesson for Trump’s critics and opponents in the first 100 days of his presidency as well. That lesson: There are likely to be several hundred more days of the Trump presidency.

The reason I bring this up is that there is a popular sentiment out there among Trump’s most ardent critics that I encounter on a semi-regular basis, in travels through social media and in real life, that holds that some quick solution to the Trump problem is imminent. A shoe drops, and it’s lights out for Donald ― or at least it’s the prelude to yet another shoe making its descent.

When will the Trump presidency end? How will it happen? These are questions that have been put to me. In all likelihood, it ends with another election. If it happens prematurely, though, it will be the result of something bad, and that trauma will likely beget further trauma.

Presidencies that end abruptly, by definition, don’t end cleanly. We don’t press reset, get a new slate, and walk away clean. After the ignominious end of Richard Nixon’s administration, his successor, President Gerald Ford, tried to make a swift pivot, kicking off his tenure with a ritual incantation: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” But if you trace our history since the end of the Vietnam War and the Nixon presidency, it looks as if that period of unease never really did end. In the decades since, we’ve been more defined by our crises of faith than we have been by our accomplishments, and trust in important institutions has eroded.

Following his resignation, President Richard M. Nixon flashes the V-for-victory sign as he boards his Marine One helicopter f
STR New / Reuters
Following his resignation, President Richard M. Nixon flashes the V-for-victory sign as he boards his Marine One helicopter for the last time on the South Lawn of the White House August 9, 1974.

Perhaps the toughest thing to grapple with right now is the realization that the presidency of Donald Trump is not actually some freak, black-swan event that rose from the ether to shock our system unexpectedly. Rather, it is the natural consequence of decades of choices that we made together.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Trump is a man more sinned against than sinning. Given his unruly nature, manic ego, and history of corruption, this should be a period of high anxiety in its own right. By my reckoning, there is a better-than-average likelihood that Trump will become involved in some serious wrongdoing ― in fact, he might be ensnared in such iniquity at this very moment.

This is not, by any means, a call to give up on pursuing truth and justice, inquiry and investigation, wherever evidence may lead. It’s merely a reminder that the solution to this particular moment probably does not lie over the next horizon. It’s also an admonition to remember that should Trump be removed from office, it will likely be due to some sort of traumatizing event. So, if you’re sitting at home, fingers crossed in the hope that this is all to end some time in the near future, think about what you’re wishing for, when you wish for a quick fix.

One-hundred days into his presidency, Trump’s impeachment is already branded merchandise. And The Case For Impeachment is already the title of a book, by American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman. You may remember Lichtman ― he was one of the few people during the 2016 election cycle to predict that Trump was destined to prevail, using what he describes as “the same proven method that had led [him] to forecast accurately the outcomes of eight previous elections.” This time out, even Lichtman was surprised that he’d nailed the outcome yet again.

Trump took notice. After the election, he sent along a brief note of congratulations: “Professor ― Congrats ― good call.” “What Trump overlooked,” writes Lichtman, “was my next ‘big prediction’: that, after winning the presidency, he would be impeached.” It’s worth pointing out that Lichtman hasn’t based this prediction on some proven statistical model ― he admits he’s making gut predictions based on Trump’s behavior and history, along with the historical record of past capsized presidencies. Sometimes, we go too far when historians try to be pundit stars.

But if you’re looking to Lichtman’s text to provide the thing the title of his book immediately implies ― a straightforward, prêt-à-porter legal case against Trump’s continued presidency that can be filed and argued ― you’re going to go home wanting. Lichtman ably explains the impeachment mechanism, describes past presidencies that have fomented crises, and even outlines ways in which “impeachment traps” can be laid. But much of the body of his book simply rehashes things that we already know about Trump: his shady business deals, his various scams, his conflicts of interests, his deceptions, and his shabby treatment of women.

President Bill Clinton prepares to read a statement at the White House after the Senate voted not to convict him Feb. 12, 199
STEPHEN JAFFE via Getty Images
President Bill Clinton prepares to read a statement at the White House after the Senate voted not to convict him Feb. 12, 1999. Clinton apologized his actions that led to his impeachment.

Lichtman is correct to note that the misdeeds of yesteryear can become relevant to impeachment proceedings. In a technical sense, they can even serve to animate an impeachment. But it’s hard to believe that any of Trump’s past transgressions, having been digested fully by the public in the years that have just passed, are going to inspire Congress to act on his removal at some point in the future.

Nevertheless, there are some areas, capably identified by Lichtman, where Trump could potentially lose his grip on his office. One has to do with his varied business holdings, a ripe ground for all sorts of corruption. His stateside assets raise considerable concerns about conflicts of interest, and the possibility that he’ll be guided more by what’s best for his bottom line than he is about the concerns of the American people.

Abroad, his international holdings raise the concern that he’ll be susceptible to foreign favor-trading, and give special treatment to foreign actors who agree to plump his bank account. Just this week, it was reported that the State Department was promoting Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort ― a move that brought the immediate scorn of ethics watchdogs for the potential violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. (The State Department subsequently deleted these promotions.)

These are the sorts of entanglements that the nation’s founders specifically sought to avoid, and which could be grounds for impeachment. But while there is an emoluments-related lawsuit currently snaking its way through the legal system, you have to remember that the most effective defender of the public interest, where conflicts of interest are concerned, is Congress, and the Republicans who control both houses have elected to turn a blind eye to the problem.

Should Democrats, at some point, retake the majority in one or both houses of Congress, oversight could accelerate considerably. But either way, we are not looking at something that’s going to get Trump tossed from office any time soon. And while the Trump administration has brought a lot of attention ― and even some public affection ― to the Office of Government Ethics, this agency is not out there setting impeachment traps. If the OGE gets its way, Trump’s critics won’t even be able to make a case based on his business holdings, because he will be in compliance with OGE advice.

The other area on which Trump is vulnerable is the ongoing investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the extent to which Trump and his coterie were knit up in that alleged plot. This particular case has all the high-tension trimmings, complete with the frisson of treason. But again, nothing has reached the point where anyone is moments away from being clapped in irons. This matter will also take time to resolve. And while new speculation into the matter seems to be generated on an hourly basis, depending on who you follow on Twitter, these sorts of cases can be hard to make when they seem makeable.

In the end, this whole tawdry affair could end with no one being able to prove a case against Trump and his associates. It could even potentially end with their exoneration. These are outcomes for which you should intellectually and emotionally be prepared to accept. Hopefully, the outcome is the result of a thorough and professional inquiry in which we can have faith, whatever it is.

Besides, do you really want the White House to have been compromised by the Russian state? Would you prefer that massive graft takes root at the executive level? Don’t forget that while any of these things might shorten Trump’s tenure, they’re still not good outcomes for the rest of us.

And what about the other kinds of things that might suddenly end a presidency? Most of them involve an event that causes widespread damage, misery, or injury. We should be clear-eyed about this. If you’re rooting for a quick end to Trump’s presidential tenure, remember: You’re also rooting for something that will likely bring widespread anguish to your fellow Americans.

A grim-faced President Jimmy Carter, in the Oval Office, tells of the aborted rescue effort intended to free 53 American
Bettmann via Getty Images
A grim-faced President Jimmy Carter, in the Oval Office, tells of the aborted rescue effort intended to free 53 American hostages from Iran, on April 25, 1980.

There has to be a morning after. If Trump is taken down by intelligence community findings, corruption, or some destructive event, we’ll still have to deal with the aftermath. In that sense, impeachment is not necessarily a “peaceful remedy” at all. It would be yet another crisis of faith in fractious times, sowing tension and division, difficult to unwind.

We ought to pursue the truth, serve just ends, and punish wrongdoers, but we shouldn’t be up at night, hoping for wrong to be done, just because it will facilitate the electoral outcomes we prefer.

So it’s telling that in the penultimate chapter of The Case For Impeachment, Lichtman opts out of shaking the pom-poms for impeachment. Instead, he addresses Trump directly, urging him to simply change his ways, by following “a blueprint for surviving as president.” Lichtman advises Trump to divest his assets, become more forward-thinking on policy, achieve a greater level of grace and generosity in his temperament, suspend his autocratic approach, and stop lying his way out of problems.

Here’s Lichtman’s final admonition to Trump:

I have one word for you in conclusion, Mr. President, and that word is legacy. It’s easy to get swept up in the adulation and enthusiasm of the crowd. But you can’t build a legacy on rallies and tweets. You need solid accomplishments that make America great and safe and that will secure your re-election in 2020.

Above all, you can’t afford to ensnare yourself in on impeachment investigation, like the one that consumed the last two years of Clinton’s presidency. The bar is, frankly, set so low for you that even the small changes I’ve suggested here would sufficiently disarm your critics and clear the path to a successful presidency. You can do this.

Too much to ask for? Maybe. Probably. But it’s a pretty optimistic moment to come at the end of a book titled “The Case For Impeachment.” And it shows that Lichtman isn’t actually rooting for a presidency-ending trauma, despite the litany of Trump past misdeeds he catalogues in the preceding chapters. This isn’t really a case for impeachment ― it’s the case for Trump to do enough of the necessary self-reflection to have an effective, respectable, and responsible presidency. That’s something that still might be achieved if Trump took stock of his errors and made the most of this moment.

And there is a lesson here for Trump’s critics and opponents as well. This is time for some fearless inventory-taking, for the generation of bold ideas, and for keeping all of your fellow citizens foremost in your thoughts. To say nothing of some relentless campaigning and organizing. This is also a legacy moment for this cohort, a time to do some work.

I’ve read a lot of party “autopsies,” in which a party that loses an election attempts to assess what went wrong. In all honestly, they never really boil down to real change. Instead, they become a call to do the same old things, just with better marketing. Democrats in particular have repeatedly gone to the “but our opponents are crazy” well, only to face the law of diminishing returns head-on. Everybody is looking for shortcuts instead of doing honest evaluation, and the shortcuts don’t lead anywhere.

Should Trump’s term be shortened by wrongdoing, let it be the result of justice being served as clearly and as honestly as possible. In the meantime, everyone would be well-advised to spend a lot less time and labor crossing their fingers in the hopes of a quick fix. Quick fixes don’t exist.

In fact, it can be argued that it was the search for this quick fix that led us to this point in the first place. The real “100 days” lesson for those who hope to one day supplant Trump, is that the first political party or movement that courageously takes stock in itself, generates new ideas, and eschews the temptation of the easy answer is likely to be the next one that builds something that endures. And should Trump’s time in office end in infamy, they’ll be in a better position to help the country heal. That’s what it takes to end a nightmare, if not a presidency.

The Huffington Post

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Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.  

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