I don’t have the courage of my convictions. President Donald Trump deserves to be impeached for trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. With every week, he says or does something worse than what he already said or did. But to say Trump deserves impeachment is different from saying that impeachment is good for the country. It might, in fact, turn out quite badly.
Most of the people whom I like or trust believe—and believe rather strongly—that what Trump has done rises to a crime. For them, the analysis of whether Trump should be impeached can’t help but be informed by their view that Trump represents an existential threat to the country. If he might damage American democracy at some fundamental level, without any obvious recourse, then pursuing his removal from office would seem to go without saying. That he is in a position to win again in 2020 and serve another four years makes impeachment all the more urgent.
Yet if you believe, as I do, that Trump is bad, but also that his badness falls somewhat short of an existential threat, then impeachment, however justified in theory, becomes less straightforward. The process does not unfold in a political vacuum, and Democrats should not let the certainty of their legal reasoning push them toward impeachment without regard for its real-world consequences—which are uncertain and could prove costly. Impeachment also runs the risk of hijacking the debate in the Democratic primary, as well as further embittering Trump’s supporters and souring them on the democratic process.