Yes, Democrats Have Been Itching to Impeach From the Start

Trump is distinguished not only by his misdeeds, but by the dearth of redeeming qualities to offset them.

Nancy Pelosi holding a gavel
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

About the author: Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the Up for Debate newsletter.

When historians ask themselves why Democrats impeached President Donald Trump, they can parse the two articles of impeachment for part of the story: “abuse of power” and “obstruction of justice.” Yet Republicans insist that something deeper is going on. They insist that Democrats have wanted to oust Trump from the White House ever since he was elected.

They’re not wrong. Trump is seen as less legitimate than past Republican presidents. And many leftists are cheering the prospect of his removal even though Vice President Mike Pence, who would replace him, is far more conservative.

Why? What I’d suggest to future generations, which might not perceive it as readily with the passage of time, is the extreme moral depravity that millions of Americans see in the president. Deep in their bones, they feel that he is deplorable.

It won’t be difficult for future generations to find specific examples of his lust, greed, wrath, envy, pride, adultery, fraud, cruelty, vulgarity, bigotry, and bearing of false witness. Yet even a complete catalog of his sins would be incomplete, because Trump is distinguished not only by his misdeeds, but by the dearth of redeeming qualities to offset them.

Of course, his supporters earnestly like many of his policies, his judicial appointments, the performance of the economy during his tenure, his critique of Washington-establishment failings, and their feeling that he is on their side in a culture war against the left.

But they’d quickly suspect biting satire if a poker-faced stranger told them this: Trump is a truthful man and a principled leader––the selfless sort of president who puts his country before himself and his family. He is sooner reflexively kind than needlessly cruel. Children ought to emulate his behavior and are fortunate to have him as a role model. In a different era, if an enemy were approaching the city gates, he’d be first among the volunteers to charge them, risking life and limb to protect the safety of innocents. He always pays back his debts and can be trusted with another man’s wife or daughter.

Most typical Trump supporters would sooner laugh at that paragraph than defend its veracity. And in an indirect way, that is one of the reasons Trump was impeached yesterday. The perceived unfitness of his character and the risks it carries incline many to action.

Historians should credit GOP claims that the moral contempt Democrats have for Trump is deep and inextricable from impeachment. And I suspect they will find that contempt warranted, however they come to understand the merits of impeachment itself.