in a powerful and lengthy piece, up this afternoon, titled The People vs. Donald J. Trump and subtitled “He is demonstrably unfit for office. What are we waiting for?”
He begins with a very blunt paragraph:
The presidential oath of office contains 35 words and one core promise: to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since virtually the moment Donald J. Trump took that oath two years ago, he has been violating it.
The column is too long to go through all of the points Leonhardt raises, but let me below the break offer some key information.
After going through only SOME of the chaos we have experienced under Trump, Leonhardt offers this paragraph, in response to his own question as offered above in the subtitle:
The easy answer is to wait — to allow the various investigations of Trump to run their course and ask voters to deliver a verdict in 2020. That answer has one great advantage. It would avoid the national trauma of overturning an election result. Ultimately, however, waiting is too dangerous. The cost of removing a president from office is smaller than the cost of allowing this president to remain.
He is careful in what he is offering. As he notes in PART of one key paragraph:
Before we get to the how of Trump’s removal, though, I want to spend a little more time on the why — because even talking about the ouster of an elected president should happen only under extreme circumstances. Unfortunately, the country is now so polarized that such talk instead occurs with every president.
He then reminds us of calls within Congress for impeachment moves against each of the past two Presidents.
He makes clear that neither Trump’s ideology — which in some cases he finds abhorrent — nor even some of his more noxious actions such as cutting health insurance or deporting undocumented aliens rises to the necessary level for impeachment.
Leonhardt tells us
The negligence and perfidy of President Trump — his high crimes and misdemeanors — can be separated into four categories. This list is conservative.
It does NOT (at least at this point) include either collusion with Russia (not necessarily as yet proven) or his cavalier — lazy — approach to the performance of his job.
It instead focuses on demonstrable ways that he has broken the law or violated his constitutional oath.
Let me list the four categories as each appears, in the bolded section heading:
Trump has used the presidency for personal enrichment.
Trump has violated campaign finance law.
Trump has obstructed justice.
Trump has subverted democracy.
Leonhardt explains in detail, with supporting material, each of these assertions.
Let me offer the first and last brief paragraphs on just the last point, the subverting of democracy:
The Constitution that Trump swore to uphold revolves around checks and balances. It depends on the idea that the president is not a monarch. He is a citizen to whom, like all other citizens, the country’s laws apply. Trump rejects this principle. He has instead tried to undermine the credibility of any independent source of power or information that does not serve his interests.
No other president since Nixon has engaged in behavior remotely like Trump’s. To accept it without sanction is ultimately to endorse it. Unpleasant though it is to remove a president, the costs and the risks of a continued Trump presidency are worse.
Leonhardt then poses the question of What Now? and proceeds to answer it.
It is not that he is calling for moving immediately to impeachment — he points out all the reasons that would be both ineffective and counterproductive.
Instead, he argues for a “smarter approach” which he describes as
a series of sober-minded hearings to highlight Trump’s misconduct. Democrats should focus on easily understandable issues most likely to bother Trump’s supporters, like corruption.
He thinks that can move both Congressional Republicans and some of Trump’s base. One key is whether the conditions can be clarified as representing electoral jeopardy for Republicans, as two Senators up in 2020, Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, are already giving some indication by appearing to break with the President on his “wall” as a condition for reopening the government. As he writes:
It’s not only that Trump is unfit to be president and that Republicans know it. It also may be the case that they will soon have a political self-interest in abandoning him. If they did, the end could come swiftly. The House could then impeach Trump, knowing the Senate might act to convict. Or negotiations could begin over whether Trump deserves to trade resignation for some version of immunity.
Let me stop at this point. Note that Leonhardt does not explicitly call for impeachment, but rather for aggressive hearings, especially on the four topics on which he focuses, as a means of galvanizing the political pressure to either move towards impeachment or possibly force the President to resign in return for some limited immunity.
Trump already hates both The New York Times and The Washington Post and continues to try to demean and undermine both. Unfortunately for him, both have a real impact on political opinion, even still within some segments of the Republican party. Leonhardt is a major columnist for the former. Which is why I think this column will have some resonance, especially given the challenge of this final paragraph:
Throughout his career, Trump has worked hard to invent his own reality, and largely succeeded. It has made him very rich and, against all odds, elected him president. But whatever happens in 2019, his false version of reality will not survive history, just as Nixon’s did not. Which side of that history do today’s Republicans want to be on?