Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Necessary Impeachment

It is customary for American Presidents to wait until inauguration day before instigating their first Constitutional crisis.  But Donald Trump is, as we know, no respecter of custom.  And so, almost two months before taking the oath of office, the President-elect has signaled his intention to simply ignore the emoluments clause of the Constitution, along with the entire corpus of federal conflict-of-interest law.

"Emoluments" is a fancy eighteenth century term for, basically, "suitcases full of money," and the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits individuals occupying offices of trust -- such as, for instance, the President -- from receiving "emoluments" from foreign governments.  It embodies the common sense notion that it is probably not a good idea for high-ranking American officials to accept envelopes stuffed with unmarked bills from foreign powers, even if such envelopes are not provably bribes. Better safe than sorry, you know?

In practice, this means that you can preside over a global business empire, or you can be President of the United States, but you cannot do both at the same time. And this potentially entails a degree of personal sacrifice.

Donald Trump, however, is not well acquainted with sacrifice. In fact, as George Stephanopoulos learned, to his visible embarrassment, the President-elect literally does not know the meaning of the word. So it may have come as a surprise to him that he is expected (and, you know, required by law) to forego the opportunity to profit from his greatly enhanced celebrity, at least for the next four years. This is not, apparently, what he signed up for.

And so we have reached an awkward moment in American history, in which it has become apparent that if Donald Trump does assume office, absent a complete turn-around on this question, Congress will have no alternative but to remove him.

This is not a partisan question.  It is Republicans in the House who will need to bring articles of impeachment against the President, and the votes of Republican Senators will be needed to remove him from office.  His successor, of course, will be Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, a very, very conservative Republican. This is not about "reversing" the outcome of the election.

It is merely the minimum required of anyone who -- like all members of Congress -- swears an oath to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution.  It is, simply, necessary.    

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