Donald Trump inflames the passions of his supporters by calling impeachment a “coup,” while his campaign manager raises funds by calling impeachment a “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the people’s president.” Attempting a slightly more legalistic gloss in a letter to Congress, Trump’s White House counsel wound up calling impeachment “unconstitutional.”
This isn’t just jarring; it’s absurd. Impeachment is all right there—plain as day—in the text of the Constitution. The House of Representatives is clearly vested with the “sole power of Impeachment,” and the Senate with the “sole power to try all Impeachments.” The Constitution even commands that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment.” Following constitutional procedures is by definition constitutional, the exact opposite of a coup or sedition. Isn’t this exquisitely clear? Yes, if you happen to be a constitutionalist working from the Constitution.
But Trump is not. He’s a populist who thinks that he alone represents the American people against a corrupt elite—an elite that has turned to impeachment “to take away the Power of the People.” Just as Trump shrugged off the “phony” emoluments clause, he thinks the constitutional clauses establishing impeachment must yield to the man who embodies the authentic voice of the people. It’s not just that constitutional institutions and norms do not matter to him; it’s that he sees them as illegitimate when they constrain his power.