There are many, many stories in the “liberal” media about the political risks of impeachment. The story about what happened to Bill Clinton is a common one. We all know Mitch McConnell will block it in the Senate. Others cite political polls showing that it’s not popular. Nancy Pelosi has said she prefers that Trump be defeated at the ballot box and then prosecuted for his alleged crimes.
What we don’t see as much are the risks of not impeaching. I’d like to highlight a few of these here.
Adding credibility to the Republican story
If this is a serious issue, we should be taking serious steps to try to address it. Polls be damned. If you’re not willing to do what you can to try to address it, it’s hard to take it seriously. You look weak. Unsure. Vacillating.
The Republican narrative that this is somehow a “deep state” plot with nothing behind it starts to look more credible. And if you follow right-wing propaganda, it’s not a stretch to say that if Democrats don’t seize the investigative initiative, Republicans will. If you don’t believe me, look at the seven politically motivated Benghazi investigations they launched.
Brian Bueller points out that they are likely to ramp up the Spygate and “deep state” propaganda again under the direction of William Barr no matter what Democrats do. The “deep state” story becomes more credible if Democrats don’t open impeachment proceedings. If one side appears strong and the other weak, it often doesn’t matter what the truth is. People believe the side that takes a strong moral position.
Democrats will be portrayed as political
If you want to know what this looks like, here’s an article from the Washington Post this week in which the author claims, without any direct evidence, that Nancy Pelosi is avoiding impeachment proceedings to protect swing district Democrats.
This is a fascinating article to read, by the way. It’s an opinion article with no actual quotes or evidence from Nancy Pelosi that this is indeed what she’s doing. But the article reads as fact. The author makes blanket assumptions about motivation without any direct supporting evidence:
But the moral and practical reasons for impeachment — however valid they may be — don’t stand up to Pelosi’s political concerns that impeachment would jeopardize her hard-won majority.
Don’t get me wrong. The author may be right in her assumptions that politics is the issue. I just haven’t seen any direct evidence that this is the case. The author is the only person claiming it is. If the House doesn’t begin impeachment hearings, the question people will ask is: Why not?
Whether it is or not, it looks like a political calculation. I can understand why this argument would hold water with many if Pelosi doesn’t pursue impeachment.
If you’re not willing to fight for people, people aren’t willing to fight for you
One of the reasons I often hear about why people like Donald Trump is that they say he’s fighting for them. He’s not. But he looks like he’s fighting. He picks fights. Conservative talk radio host Joe Walsh described it like this:
"He fights!" my radio show listeners shout.
"But he fights for what?" I ask.
"It doesn't matter. He fights," they answer.
"But he lies. All the time," I interject.
"We don't care. He fights," they respond.
And so it goes. Everyday.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) June 8, 2019
When Nancy Pelosi fought Trump over his wall with Mexico, her approval ratings reached their highest since 2007. It could be argued that this was because she won the fight. Her ratings gradually increased though even when it wasn’t known whether she would win or not. I believe they increased because she picked a strong moral fight.
The case for impeachment is a strong moral fight. The greater danger to me seems like looking like we’re not doing anything or, even worse, protecting the establishment.
David Akadjian is the author of The Little Book of Revolution: A Distributive Strategy for Democracy (ebook now available).