The Catholic Case Against Impeachment

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As everyone knows, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives have passed a bill of impeachment against the president of the United States, Donald Trump. Oceans of ink have and will be spilled over this matter—and I am happy to add to the literary carnage.

There is a great deal to be mulled over here. From the day that Trump sinned grievously against the establishment by presuming to win the 2016 election, they have hated him. Had he walked on water, his critics would have claimed it was because of heavy pollution, no doubt caused by his very presence. I loathed Barack Obama for his hatred of my religion’s teachings, but I nevertheless had to live with him for eight years. So I initially felt as Trump’s opponents must do. But instead of living with the inevitable, their hatred grew ever more intense and relentless—so much so that many of us began succumbing to Trump Outrage Fatigue Syndrome, becoming more sympathetic to the man precisely because of the unending attacks against him.

To be sure, Trump is a decidedly mixed bag: he marks gay pride month and is committed to the maintenance of same-sex “marriage” as the law of the land, but he has also made strides as regards pro-life issues. He has certainly tried harder to keep his campaign promises than any other president I have lived under. Of course, he plays to those who elected him: his military withdrawals, while annoying innumerable pundits and would-be policy makers, certainly pleased his working-class supporters, upon whose children’s backs the bulk of defending this country rests.

As leader of one section of this deeply divided country, Trump—like Obama—has suffered from a problem inherent in the strange office both men have occupied. As Eric Nelson concluded in his recent history of our country’s founding, The Royalist Revolution: “On one side of the Atlantic, there would be kings without monarchy; on the other, monarchy without kings.” While our presidents are expected to serve as party leaders—ignoring the part of the country that did not vote for them and always prepping for the next election (thus making long-range policy-making difficult)—they are also required to at least pretend to represent everyone. In a sense, the president serves as the high priest of our national civic religion. Some incumbents have played both roles better than others, but with the currently divided state of the nation, it is a task that seems well-nigh impossible.

 

There is no doubt that one’s support of or anger against Trump predetermines one’s view of this impeachment. In the case of Bill Clinton, there was no doubt that he had committed perjury; the question was whether it merited removal. Here the charges are two: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. However, the first is a protean charge, as applicable to Obama for cutting off free lunches to children whose schools did not wish to allow boys into girls’ rooms as it might be to the many who waged war without a congressional declaration thereof (including each of them since 1945).  The second may or may not be reduced to a matter of the invocation of the executive privilege.

In any case, since this impeachment has no hope of passing the Republican-controlled Senate, it appears to be more a political feint than an exercise in constitutional defense. As Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), current chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said back in 1991: “There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties and largely opposed by the other. Such an impeachment would lack legitimacy, would produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come and will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions.”

At this point, the question might well be raised as to what part Church teaching should play in this drama. As with the question of the just war, so, too, with that of the just rebellion—and impeachment is nothing if not a peaceful revolution. As Nadler put it in the same speech: “It is in fact a peaceful procedure for protecting the nation from despots, by providing a constitutional means for removing a president who misuses presidential power to make himself a tyrant or otherwise to undermine our constitutional form of government.”

Regardless of the means used, one of the criteria employed to determine whether a rebellion is in fact just—as with a war—is if the outcome of not doing it is likelier to be worse than doing it. This happens rarely; few revolutions or wars meet this criterion. As Shadi Hamid opined in the December 16, 2019 issue of Atlantic, “the removal of Trump, however legally and constitutionally legitimate, would confirm the worst suspicions of his supporters: that their voices, in the end, wouldn’t be allowed to count. Their democratic and electoral agency would be denied… a sense of disenfranchisement would sour tens of millions of Americans on the democratic process—and on the idea of democracy. The perception that a legitimate electoral outcome was undone by those other than the voters themselves—in this case partisan actors and political elites—could inflict the very damage on the system’s democratic legitimacy that Democrats themselves have been warning against.” For him, there can be little doubt that the action would be worse than the status quo.

In any case, the impeachment is quite as likely to result in a Republican House majority next year. Having consecrated themselves to infanticide and perversion, the Democratic leadership have constituted themselves as much the enemies of reality as of the Faith. Should their political incompetence return control of the legislature to their opponents, it will be up to America’s Catholics to hold those opponents to the pro-life promises they shall no doubt make.

Photo credit: AFP via Getty Images

Charles Coulombe

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Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine's European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan's Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

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