Anshul Barnwal | Dartmouth College
The investigation surrounding Donald Trump and his ties to Russia has been one of the most popular stories in the media since Trump was elected, with many, officials and citizens alike, calling for his impeachment. The narrative of collusion and corruption has been popular and persistent, with many investing hope in Trump being prematurely removed from office, while unfortunately ignoring that impeachment might actually be incredibly destructive towards Democratic causes.
Firstly, it is unlikely that the investigation will lead to anything significant in terms of actually removing Trump. Even in the worst (or, to some people, best) case scenario of special prosecutor Robert Mueller finding damning evidence of the Trump campaign actually colluding with Russia, a number of significant things would have to occur for Trump to be impeached. Impeachment is primarily a political maneuver: there is no binding obligation written in the Constitution for which Congress is obligated to impeach Trump; it’s a largely subjective determination made by Congress and thus Trump will never be impeached unless two-thirds of senators decided it was in their best interest.
Electing sixty-seven Democratic senators during the midterms would take nothing short of a miracle, and as a result, Democrats will need to recruit at least a few Republicans to go for impeachment. Unfortunately, Gallup’s weekly polling shows that Republican constituents’ support for Trump has never dipped below 77% and most recently has been in the mid to high eighties, indicating that Republican politicians are unlikely to anger their base by voting against Trump. Regardless of how impeachment should play out theoretically, it is simply unlikely.
Secondly, even if collusion were discovered and impeachment proceedings occurred, the base that Trump relies on simply does not care. According to the Democratic-leaning think tank Public Policy Polling, nearly 80 percent of Trump supporters believe that he should continue acting as president even if collusion with Russia is discovered. This is crucial, not only because it means that Republicans, who rely on this very base, are unlikely to actually impeach Trump, but because impeaching him has the potential to aggravate his base and, based on the perceived unfairness, cause a backlash that could severely hurt Democrats’ chances in future elections.
In regards to future elections, it is imperative to consider how Trump’s impeachment would affect Democrats’ chances in the 2018 midterms. In the status quo, Democrats are hurtling towards a triumphant victory in this year’s elections: the consensus is that Democrats will win the House and that they have a very real chance of taking back the Senate, as well. This is confirmed by recent special elections, which show Democrats like Doug Jones and Conor Lamb making significant inroads in states and districts that voted heavily for Trump, especially among the white working class workers that rebuffed them in 2016. Indeed, Washington Post columnist and former labor lawyer Jennifer Rubin wrote in December: “[Trump has] ignited a backlash that could deliver in 2018 House and Senate majorities to Democrats, who barely had a political pulse a year ago.” Not only has Trump inspired a backlash among the swing white voters that Rubin discusses, but he’s inspired a new wave of Democratic turnout, as well: African Americans (especially women) turned out at record rates for the Alabama special election to propel Doug Jones to a victory, and one can easily look at the historic women’s march to see the galvanizing effect Trump has had on women and feminist allies.
Unfortunately, impeaching Trump could lead to sapping the movement of its momentum: lost in the celebration of his impeachment, it is easy to see an effect of complacency rippling through the population and revert turnout for liberal-leaning demographics to normal levels. After all, the biggest target for women is Trump’s outrageous “grab her by the pussy” claims and general demeaning of women; Mike Pence, while certainly not a progressive feminist by any means, is substantially better at, at the very least, giving the impression that he respects women. Without the symbol of misogyny that Trump has grown to become, it is difficult to see turnout continuing to be so high. If Democrats want to ride the wave of anti-Trump sentiment into a midterm victory, they should avoid removing him, at least right now.
Additionally, though Pence is better at exuding a positive image, he is absolutely better at pushing Trump’s agenda; having a long history in politics, Pence will certainly find it easier to be diplomatic and push what will be Trumpian policies without Trump’s name attached. Rather than getting his own way with Twitter, golf, and side distractions, Pence will be meticulous and rational, advancing the Republican agenda with precision as opposed to tripping over his own feet. If Trump’s policies, such as withdrawing from Paris, cutting taxes for the rich, and repealing Obamacare are the problem, then Pence will almost certainly be worse, especially given that supporting a Pence agenda does not pose the same risks to Republican politicians that supporting Trump’s does.
Additionally, the entire Russia scandal seems to be an excuse for Trump’s election, an effort to paint the entire fiasco as some kind of error that can be remedied with impeachment. It is no secret that most Americans are embarrassed of our president, and as a result, it is no surprise that they want him stripped of office so they can excuse his presidency as a short-lived mistake. In reality, though, writing Trump off as merely corrupt happenstance is wrong. Political polarization and disillusionment are at their highest points in decades, and ignoring the people who used their ballots to condemn the establishment in 2016 is only putting off conflict and failing to acknowledge the serious problems dividing our country.
At least with Trump, there is a visible phenomenon that people can use as a rallying point for investigating polarization and divisiveness, but if Trump is impeached, then it merely serves to cover up what is a salient and destructive issue in America; instead, we should take Trump’s inspiration to really seek to understand the people who voted for him; we should consider the effect globalization has had on jobs and the Rust Belt, we should consider why politics has become an insider’s game and how we can fix it, and we should, above all, seek to understand rather than tear down symbols. Absent understanding, the same underlying problems will continue to exist and manifest themselves down the line perhaps just as severely as they did in 2016. Impeaching Trump will not solve corporate politics, it will not bring jobs back to the midwest, and it does absolutely nothing to stop another Trump-esque outsider from being elected in the future. College students, and everyone else, should consider the real problems in America, and act accordingly.