Can the Popularity of Impeachment Matter?

According to an ABC News / Washington Post poll, 49% of a sampling of the U.S. public wants impeachment begun (they don’t specify when, but presumably any moment now) against Trump, while 43% 46% do not. There are almost certainly millions of additional Democrats who would move into the pro-impeachment column if that party’s leaders did so. Same with Republicans. Many more Independents might also jump on board if the case were publicly made and momentum built to make conviction in the Senate seem plausible in an age when absolute loyalty to partisanship goes unquestioned.

Already 60% of the public “disapproves” of the job Trump is doing. And, in a further sign that the public sees what’s going on somewhat accurately, 45% say corruption has increased since Trump arrived in D.C., while 13% say it has decreased. 

The new poll results include for the sake of comparison, numerous poll results from the Bill Clinton presidency, none of which found impeachment support as high as it is now for Trump. Yet Clinton was impeached.

But does Clinton being impeached, and nearly being convicted, despite the majority of the public being opposed suggest that strong public support for impeaching Trump will get Trump impeached? Or does it suggest the exact opposite?

The Washington Post reports on the new poll, and notes that, “In January 1974, well into the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon’s poll numbers on impeachment were better than President Trump’s are now.” Yet, in the end, Nixon saw the writing on the wall and resigned.

But that was after Congress advanced the cause of impeachment, which increased public support, which further increased Congressional action, in a virtuous cycle increasingly covered by the media and during an age when partisanship was far less strict, Republicans less corrupted, and Democrats dramatically less cowardly.

The biggest challenge for the notion that popular support leads smoothly to impeachment is the history of the Bush-Cheney years, which never even made it into its “first draft” in journalism. Public support for the impeachment of either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney was, for years, close to or higher than it is now for Trump. Most polling companies refused to poll on impeachment at all, even for good-old U.S. dollars. It wasn’t pollable, supposedly, because it wasn’t news, supposedly, because it wasn’t happening in Congress. But there was as much or more Congressional activity on impeachment then as now. And the first poll ever done on Cheney found 54% in favor of impeachment.

Read how Newsweek reported that a majority of Americans favored impeaching Bush in 2006:

“Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support, especially calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a ‘top priority,’ but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done. (Five percent of Republicans say it should be a top priority and 15 percent of Republicans say it should be a lower priority; 78 percent oppose impeachment.)”

You could read that three times before noticing that the key fact is this: 28 plus 23 equals 51. That is to say: a majority of the United States wanted Bush impeached, and more than half of that majority wanted it to be a top priority.

Contrast that with ABC /Washington Post trumpeting the news this week that 49% want Trump impeachment proceedings to begin. We do have to remember that partisanship has grown ever worse, that the Democrats in the House are still “led” by the same Nancy Pelosi who refused to allow the impeachment of Bush or Cheney, and that Republicans have tied their boats to the Trump yacht. But the media has taken a very different approach to covering impeachment during the past 20 months. To say that the media outlets are all explicitly in favor of it would be misleading. But most of them cover it as a serious possibility to be debated, which I certainly take as indication that they favor it more than they favored the impeachment of Bush Jr. — and certainly it is having the predictable impact on the public. Underestimating the power of the corporate media is probably easier than overestimating it.

Some other factors must be considered, however — especially these two: on what grounds will Trump be impeached, and why do the Democrats in Washington currently oppose it.

For most Americans, and most media outlets, the topic of impeachment is virtually synonymous with Russiagate. But a Russiagate impeachment hearing could be a disaster even without starting World War III, because wild accusations could fall short of being backed up by the slightest shred of plausible evidence. The primary result could be the further hardening of the current understanding that impeachment is unworkable or only for sex or only for Republicans to use, that something is wrong with the very process of impeachment — rather than there being something wrong with impeaching people for lying about blow jobs or for charges manufactured as cold war propaganda to distract attention from election failures. A secondary result could be the entrenchment of the notion that facts are things to choose to fit one’s fancy or partisan loyalty, with Democrats declaring the case against Trump to be painfully “obvious” and Republicans declaring it all “fake.” A tertiary result could be the increased understanding that impeachment is a process driven from within Washington, D.C. I hope it’s unnecessary for me to add that all of these results would be disastrous.

In contrast, an impeachment driven by the public, against the consensus within Washington, and against the media’s preferences, could create representative government. I recommend these resources from for a sensible approach to impeachment:

>> Draft Articles of Impeachment

>> Impeachment Strategy

>> Impeachment FAQ

>> Impeachment Campaign

Why does the Democratic “leadership” oppose such an approach? I think it has four main reasons, all of them surmountable.

1. Pure cowardice. Democrats are not craftily pretending to not want to impeach Trump until after they win a majority, after which they’ll all spring it on him. That’s not how U.S. politics works. If the ever-rightwarding handful of “centrist” voters for whom Democratic candidates will traditionally sacrifice tens of thousands of left-leaning constituents don’t want impeachment now, they won’t want it then, unless something is done to change their minds. If people think they’re going to get impeachment after another election without clamoring for it now, they haven’t paid attention to the last several dozen elections. You have to raise your demand and press for it, and if there’s an election make it an election issue. And even then your chances will remain slim, but they’ll be increased.

2. Strategy. When the Democrats won the majority in 2006, and the exit polls showed the top issue to be ending the war on Iraq, Rahm Emanuel told the Washington Post that they’d keep the war going (in fact they escalated it) in order to campaign “against” it again in 2008. It’s important to keep working on trying to get some small fraction of people to understand that this is the big reason that the Democrats want Trump around. Look at their constant campaigning: they are the anti-Trumps. Their reasoning is the same as that of the CEO of CBS who said that Trump might be bad for the United States but he sure was good for ratings. He may destroy the world, but he sure is good (so Democrats imagine) for Democratic election campaigns. The same Democrats will also do nothing to challenge presidential power. The same Democrats will focus for another two years on running the worst possible candidate they can find in another election against Trump. All of this gives “strategy” a bad name, but we have to recognize that that is what it’s meant to be. Then we have to change it.

3. Complicity. The serious Draft Articles of Impeachment include these charges:

The leading non-Russiagate topics involve corruption. The entity we’re looking to for a solution is . . . Congress. Do I really have to say more? But with some of these charges, less of Congress is complicit than with others. In fact, Congress runs up against Trump quite frequently. Recently, Trump published a Bush-Obama-esque signing statement announcing his right to ignore some ridiculously teeny restrictions that Congress had placed on U.S. participation in genocide in Yemen. At that point, Congress can (a) cut off funding for any actions in violation of the law, or (b) impeach the president (and “a” would almost certainly lead to “b” which is certainly why Congress is not doing “a”) or (c) admit to being a glorified collection of court jesters clinging to the pretense of power that was given away some decades back. So, we need to pick the charges carefully, with consideration for the interests of corrupt Congress members in mind. I suspect that these would be most easily moved if anything can be:

But we cannot lose sight of problem number 1 above: cowardice.

4. Pencedread. The horror of President Pence is very strong in millions of self-appointed Democratic strategists. I think eight years of Trumpism unchallenged is the surest path to a dangerous President Pence in a political system in which the title “president” may not even seem accurate any longer to most people. I think a popular revolt that imposes a serious impeachment on a reluctant Congress is the surest path to a Pence Presidency that is less nasty, less brutish, and more short. I’d prefer a President Pence watching over his shoulder to a President Trump granted total license to destroy — How’s the latter working out so far? If we get to recognition of climate apocalypse, or if we get to nuclear apocalypse, what consolation will it be that we fended off President Pence? Pencedread is a symptom of a worldview that has already abandoned all hope. Everything good lies in a different direction.

Of course the popularity of impeachment can matter, if it gets big enough and loud enough and active enough and smart enough. I recommend we try.

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