What Does Impeachment Really Mean?

The House of Representatives has begun the impeachment process against President Trump. But why now?


WSN Editorial Board

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry on Tuesday into President Donald Trump. Pelosi, who has long believed that impeachment was too divisive a process to pursue, announced this in light of a complaint filed by a U.S. intelligence official detailing a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Over the phone, Trump urged Zelensky to investigate former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden. Trump’s request centers around Biden’s alleged repression of an investigation looking into Hunter Biden’s involvement with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil and gas company. The allegation against Biden is not substantiated, but Trump’s decision to pressure Zelensky into investigating him might just be the president’s downfall. Yet the timing is notable, as Trump has already committed multiple impeachable offenses. It only comes after a prominent Democrat is threatened, as opposed to the many civilians that have suffered from his crimes. Even more ironic is the fear around election manipulation, when the U.S. has done the same to several countries around the world. Beyond the irony of the cause, impeachment itself, if it were to happen, wouldn’t change the political reality for many. 

Impeachable offenses fall into one of three categories: treason, bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which Alexander Hamilton defined in the Federalist Papers as an abuse of political power and public trust. This newest accusation is far from the first time that Trump has committed an impeachable offense. He’s faced sexual assault allegations while in office, funneled money from his eponymous nonprofit toward his presidential campaign and intimidated witnesses multiple times (including last week, when he implied that the whistleblower should face the death penalty). Special counsel Robert Mueller refused to declare Trump innocent of soliciting foreign intervention in the 2016 election, saying that if he “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, [he] would have said so.” Trump has shown on multiple occasions that he is eager to abuse the power he’s been given, and all other counts of abuse have been far more egregious than the one that ended up becoming the cause for his potential impeachment. Pelosi’s decision was fully justified, but why didn’t she make this decision months ago?

The impetus for impeaching the president is deeply ironic in light of the U.S’s history with elections, both abroad and at home. Internationally, the U.S. has meddled in over 80 elections — including Russia’s in 1996. Domestically, gerrymandering is widespread throughout the U.S. and a recent Supreme Court ruling effectively legalized the practice. Beyond its subliminal manipulation tactics, the U.S. engaged in overt voter suppression, rooted in its historic mistreatment and disenfranchisement of minority groups. The influence of wealth on politics, particularly elections, has reached a point where the U.S. is considered an oligarchy — by researchers and by former Presidents alike.

Foreign intervention in U.S. elections doesn’t do much to uproot an already corrupt system. The cause of the impeachment inquiry was arguably a greater threat to the stability of the Democratic Party than it was to that of the country. This is not a statement against the impeachment of the President but rather a recognition of the politics involved. During his time in office, Trump has made irreversible changes to the U.S. government; people have died as a result of his policies and people will continue to die as a result of the socio-political shift that his election catalyzed. In spite of all this, Pelosi has decided that now, as opposed to all other times that the president has violated the oath of office, is the time to begin the impeachment process. Impeaching the President might mean upholding the rule of law, but impeachment alone will not bring true justice.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 30, 2019 print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]