Leonard Pitts: Voting, not Trump’s impeachment will produce change America needs

Published 5:57 pm Saturday, January 5, 2019

By Leonard Pitts

Should Donald Trump be impeached?

That he will be seems likely as Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, the chamber where impeachment proceedings begin. That he deserves to be is similarly self-evident.

President Andrew Johnson was impeached after firing a member of his Cabinet without congressional approval. President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about a sexual affair with an intern.

If those men merited impeachment, how much more deserving is Trump, who stands credibly accused of felonies for directing hush-money payoffs to a porn star and a Playboy centerfold? To say nothing of charges that his campaign coordinated with Russia to get him elected. Or the fact that he seems to have obstructed justice in plain sight. Not to mention that he gave away state secrets in the Oval Office. Surely Trump hurdles the bar — “high crimes and misdemeanors” — set by the Constitution with room to spare.

So, yes, he may well be impeached and surely deserves to be. But should he be? That’s a trickier question.

As you may recall from civics class, removal by impeachment is a two-step process: The House produces articles of impeachment, the Senate conducts a trial to determine if a president should be kicked out of office. Given that the Republican-dominated Senate has heretofore shown all the moral fiber of algae, there is little prospect it will dismiss Trump.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that it did, there’s no reason to believe his removal would be a panacea for the disunion, disharmony and dyspepsia that afflict this country. Indeed, it could easily make matters worse.

Remember: 63 million people voted for this guy, even knowing what he is.

Remember, too, that his latest Gallup approval rating stands at 39 percent. Though no elected president since Eisenhower has polled that low at a similar point in his term, that figure still seems stunningly high.

As flagrantly awful a president as Trump has been, four in 10 Americans think he’s doing a bang-up job. To overturn the will of that many people, especially in today’s charged environment, is to fracture an already fractured union.

None of which is to say it shouldn’t be done, but only to point out the consequences thereof. But again, the argument is academic. As noted, Trump will probably be impeached (though not removed). And the six in 10 of us who see his awfulness for what it is surely will exult, which is fine so long as we realize that impeachment will very likely change very little of what actually ails America.

Perhaps that’s as it should be.

One gets the sense sometimes that people think of impeachment as a magic trick. Abracadabra and presto! Trump disappears in a cloud of Cheetos dust, and America is saved.

It’s a great fantasy, but only that. Because Trump is not the problem, only a symptom. And America doesn’t need to be saved. No, for its own mental and moral health, America needs to save itself, needs to clearly and emphatically reject what it has become. Impeachment does not do that.

Voting the awfulness out, does. Consider this new Congress, with its record number of women, including its first Native American women, its first Muslim women and its youngest woman ever, this Congress that looks so much more like the country it serves. Consider the organizing, the canvassing, the fundraising, the putting lives on hold, the stop-complaining-about-it-and-getting-involved it took to produce this result. Then roll up your sleeves and forget about magic.

That’s not what got us into this mess. It’s not what will get us out.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.