The Conversation

Readers respond to our March 2019 cover story and more.

The Case for Impeachment

Starting the process will rein in a president who is undermining American ideals, Yoni Appelbaum argued in March.

Yoni Appelbaum acknowledges that the impeachment of Donald Trump would almost certainly not result in his removal from office, but argues that it would severely damage his political prospects. This argument ignores the significant negative effects of an impeachment effort on the Democratic Party, regarding both its election prospects and its ability to govern post-2020.
Unless a clear and overwhelming consensus emerges that Trump has committed major felonies, there are two reasons the Democrats should refrain from launching an impeachment process.
First, impeachment would dominate the rest of Trump’s term, sucking the oxygen from discussion of any other substantive issues. It would prove impossible, while impeachment hearings proceed, for Democrats to draft, enact, and effectively publicize legislation that their candidates can run on in 2020. In other words, impeachment would define Democrats solely as anti-Trump and deprive them of the opportunity to define what they are for.
Second, impeachment would be a partisan political circus, with nearly all Democrats voting for and nearly all Republicans voting against. Public anger at politicians and distrust of government would only grow, as would the likelihood of further gridlock and failure to address the nation’s problems, no matter who is elected next year.
Nicholas Lang
Charlottesville, Va.

I’m not persuaded by Appelbaum’s case that the start of impeachment hearings will sway Republicans. Given the current political polarization, I think impeachment is more likely to unite Republicans behind Trump. The process will inevitably focus the public on the actions of House Democrats like Nancy Pelosi. Faced with a choice between Team Trump and Team Pelosi, Republican voters and senators would choose the president.
David Leonhardt
Excerpt from an article on

It is astonishing that Yoni Appelbaum’s essay does not mention the person who would be the principal beneficiary of a successful impeachment: Mike Pence. This is the crucial fact that distinguishes any effort today from the attempt to impeach Andrew Johnson.
Had the Radical Republicans succeeded in 1868, the new president would have been one of their own—the Senate president pro tempore, Benjamin Wade, someone who shared their objective of protecting the civil rights of formerly enslaved people.
By contrast, making Pence president would greatly increase the likelihood that the Republicans will keep the White House in 2020. He would benefit from the natural sympathy that almost all new presidents receive, particularly those who assume office in a crisis. If he played no affirmative role in the removal of Trump, he would retain the loyalty of Trump’s followers, who would likely turn out in droves to avenge Trump’s “martyrdom.” Lacking the offensive aspects of Trump’s personality, Pence would be much more likely to retain the support of Republican moderates and independents.
Appelbaum may have intended for his argument to be nonpartisan; from my perspective, for both practical and political reasons, it would be folly to try to remove Trump unless it is clear that 20 or more Republican senators are ready to brave Trump’s followers and vote for impeachment. Even better would be a political coup under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which would necessitate Pence’s support. Either would ensure a rupture in the Republican Party that would lead to defeat in 2020.
James K. Genden
Evanston, Ill.

The logic of Appelbaum’s reasoning for impeachment is sound. Nevertheless, the practicalities of doing so are fraught. Should Trump be impeached and convicted prior to the expiration of his current term in office, Mike Pence would take over with the full authority to pardon Trump in the remaining days of that term. Thus, the “sooner rather than later” urgency of the article could end up being self-defeating.
Right now, perhaps more than at any other time in history, serious consequences need to be meted out, both to assuage public outrage and to discourage despotic behavior in future candidates. Leaving a path for Trump to walk free subverts justice and is not an option.
Andrew Nelson
Bend, Ore.

Donald Trump is indeed unable to fulfill the duties of his office. The problem is that this also seems to be true of many members of Congress. At this juncture we need statesmen with ideals and vision, and what we have is a collection of sorry political hacks. Not all, to be sure, but if I were to single out one offender, it would be Mitch McConnell. The country is being held hostage by a badly behaved child having a temper tantrum, and McConnell refuses to do anything unless he is assured that the child will approve. Yes, we need impeachment. But who is going to do it?
Stephen Wellcome
Brunswick, Maine

Impeachment is important to pursue even if the Senate fails to remove Trump, Appelbaum says, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) “Republican majority has shown little will to break with the president.”
But doesn’t this point to an easier, better remedy to this debacle? Just ditch McConnell …
True, a Republican Senate not led by Mitch McConnell still probably wouldn’t override Trump’s veto of a bill protecting America’s public lands or try to tackle climate change, but it might surely quash misguided trade wars, demand qualified Cabinet appointees, stop Trump from pulling out of NATO or other alliances that undergird America’s pole position in the world pecking order, and prevent vanity government shutdowns …
McConnell is up for re-election in 2020—and Republicans can replace him as their leader anytime they want someone a little bolder and less deferential to Trump. Will they do that? Probably not, unless they become convinced that he’s leading them into the political wilderness. But that’s still more likely than a two-thirds majority of this Senate convicting Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Peter Weber
Excerpt from an article on

Yoni Appelbaum’s terrific piece on impeachment has settled my swirling mind. I now think that the day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes his move, whether or not his report goes to the House of Representatives, impeachment should begin. There are ample grounds without anything Mueller may reveal, so there is no reason to wait once he is done. The way Andrew Johnson’s impeachment seems to foreshadow Trump’s is fascinating. History does rhyme.
Sandy Miley
Sherrill, N.Y.

A salient reason to begin impeachment proceedings is that doing so would show the world that democracy works—and, I hope, would also underscore the dangers of authoritarianism, or those governments listing in that direction. Although China’s Xi Jinping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and others are too far gone, the citizens of Hungary, Turkey, Venezuela, and others might learn something by watching our Constitution at work.
Virginia Mann
San Rafael, Calif.

Abortive attempts to oust authoritarian populists from office have gone sour in a depressingly large number of cases in recent years. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez made a big step toward dismantling democracy after he narrowly survived a recall referendum in 2004. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has crushed the remaining liberties of his opponents since an abortive coup failed to oust him in the summer of 2016.
Even Appelbaum’s favorite case—that of Andrew Johnson—is hardly a story of unalloyed success. As Appelbaum tells the story, Johnson deserved to be impeached both because of his authoritarian tendencies and because of his determination to ensure that America would remain a “white man’s [country].” And though impeachment proceedings ultimately failed by a single vote, they were seemingly a success: Johnson lost so much support that he was unable to stand for re-election.
I do not doubt either the legal or the moral case for impeaching Johnson. But anybody who knows a little bit about the history of Reconstruction has reason to contest the idea that it should serve as a model for our own perilous moment. For, while the failed attempt to impeach Johnson did end his career, it did precious little to halt the rise of his larger project. Within a decade of his departure from the White House, the vile aspiration for which he had fought—the hope of reversing the progress blacks had made in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War—had triumphed.
There is every reason for Democrats to start holding hearings into Trump’s misconduct. There is every reason for them to demand his tax returns and ask him to testify in front of Congress. But for now, impeachment would be the wrong means toward a noble end: Designed to contain the damage a dangerous president can wreak, it may turn out to help Trumpism survive even after Trump is forced to leave the White House.
Yascha Mounk
Excerpt from a Slate article

Raiders of the Office Park

In March, Rene Chun documented the rising prevalence of workplace theft.

I once worked for a steel-fabricating company whose 12 employees were mostly welders. Everyone had a key to the place, and profits were shared. Wages were based on years of service. The thief among the employees was the fastest welder. That experience convinces me that the increase in theft Rene Chun describes is due in part to the increasing number of employees who perceive themselves as unfairly compensated in this no-raises economy.
John Cady
Hillsdale, N.Y.

Mr. Chun attributed the taking of supplies and food from work to a sense of entitlement largely stemming form the fact that people are working from home more. This doesn’t explain why, at my old office—from which I never once worked remotely—I took pens and notepads and used the printers liberally for personal items (even to print a résumé to apply for another job).
The author treated office theft as a moral failing on the part of employees. But this misses the bigger picture. Real wages have been mostly stagnant for the past few decades. Rather than increasing salaries, companies are offering more perks, such as Ping-Pong tables and occasional free food. They do this knowing that it’s cheaper than just giving everyone an adequate raise, instead transferring the money saved on labor to already wealthy executives and shareholders.
Why shouldn’t I sometimes take a highlighter or a few pieces of paper that cost my employer a cent or two, when my employer is systematically depriving me and my co-workers of hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year?
Justin Schweitzer
Washington, D.C.

Rene Chun replies:

Noncash larceny (stealing stuff at work) is frequently rationalized through the social-cognitive mechanism known as moral disengagement: “It’s okay for me to take a box of Starbucks K-Cups home, because my boss is such a jerk.” Although I didn’t specifically mention worker pay in the piece, low and stagnant wages are also undoubtedly high on the list of justifications people might offer for moral disengagement. But proceed with caution. Here’s something that didn’t make it into the final copy: Due to the proliferation of video surveillance, employers frequently know who is stealing at work. Some of these thefts are used as grounds for dismissal, and some of these thefts are ignored. It depends on whether you’re a “high-value employee.” Think about that before you steal a $1,000 Aeron chair for the home office.

“Nobody Is Going to Believe You”

In March, Alex French and Maximillian Potter wrote about the director Bryan Singer, who has been trailed by accusations of sexual misconduct for more than 20 years, largely without consequence.

Alex French and Maximillian Potter’s article was keenly researched, empathetic, and well constructed. However, there is some misleading phrasing in the piece regarding a movement I was involved with at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts.
Up until roughly a year ago, the Division of Cinema and Media Studies at USC was named after Bryan Singer, an alumnus and a significant donor. In November 2017, as is correctly stated in the article, I started a petition with a fellow student intended to encourage the administration to remove Singer’s name from our school. Thirty-one days later, the day after Cesar Sanchez-Guzman filed his lawsuit against Singer, the school took his name down. From an outsider’s perspective, these events may appear to be correlated, and in the article, they are implied to be. This assumption, however, is incorrect.
The administration did not make this change because of pressure from student activists or out of respect for survivors of sexual assault. It removed Bryan Singer’s name because he personally requested that it do so, according to an email sent by administrators to the entire student body. In complying with Singer’s request, the school unashamedly allied itself with a sexual predator, letting the community know that although it would not respond to weeks of collective action from a dedicated student body, it would respond—immediately—to a powerful and influential donor. To not clarify this point when discussing the matter relieves the administration of its complicity—a benefit that it does not deserve.
Emily Halaka
Los Angeles, Calif.

#Tweet of the Month

Not Just a Drill

There’s scant evidence that exercises to prepare students for shootings are effective—but they can be psychologically damaging, Erika Christakis wrote in March.

The author fails to discuss a major motivating factor in the precautions schools take to prepare students for the relatively rare instance of a school shooter: accountability. After a tragedy occurs in a school, an intensive effort is made to determine what steps could have been taken to protect students. Any law-enforcement officials, school administrators, or teachers who are perceived to have failed in their duty to protect students could be held criminally or civilly liable. So woe to the school administrator who has to explain to grieving parents that the school failed to conduct lockdown drills because it did not want to cause unnecessary anxiety.
Steve Thompson
Coral Springs, Fla.

The majority of my career has been focused on school-based policing and emergency management. I’ve been in law enforcement for 17 years. My role as a school resource officer and my former position as the deputy director of a statewide Comprehensive School Safety Program exposed me to the constant evolution of policies and procedures related to how we can best keep our students and staff safe. Additionally, as a national instructor of school resource officers, I am constantly communicating with those involved in both the educational and public-safety fields. I’m also the father of two elementary-school students, whose physical and mental well-being is paramount to me.
A message repeated in Erika Christakis’s article is that of the low likelihood of a person being involved in a school shooting, a fact I will not dispute. The author states, “The scale of preparedness efforts is out of proportion to the risk.” Using that rationale, let’s examine how often our schools conduct fire drills. In response to state mandates, most schools conduct fire drills regularly. I suppose a fire drill could be traumatic depending on the participant and the circumstances, but it is a generally accepted practice because of its “value.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, the last known incident in which a fire caused the death of a student at a school occurred in 1958. So, given that fact and all the technology we now use to prevent and mitigate fires, why do we continue to train our children how to respond? Because fire drills—which are incorporated into every child’s school life—will inform and empower them with the knowledge of how to react. And because the potential for tragedy, regardless of its likelihood, is tremendous. I believe violent-intruder training should be conducted for the same reason.
I do agree that the improper facilitation of these drills may be traumatic for students and staff. Any drill conducted within a school needs to be thoroughly and thoughtfully planned. But preparation and education, done the right way, are incredibly empowering. I want those tools for my community, my school, and, most important, my children.
Joey Melvin
Georgetown, Del.

I read this article on a Sunday. I had just experienced my third lockdown drill on the previous Friday, with a kindergarten class. It was exactly as Ms. Christakis described: darkened room, sitting on the floor, the principal forcefully jiggling the doorknob. The other two drills were with pre-K classes. Each time the children had been prepared, and each time they responded amazingly well during the drills themselves.
The kids commented later that the drill was scary. They were right! Even staff, who are advised in advance of a drill, become jumpy and nervous just at the idea of an impending drill—what you’re drilling for is that terrifying. The thought constantly runs through your head: In an actual event, we would not have advance warning.
Diane Serniak Piwinski
Yonkers, N.Y.

I teach 3- and 4-year-olds with special needs, mainly autism. The stress on me as a teacher to get through these drills is immense. I can’t imagine what the stress does to young developing minds, especially to brains that already have difficulties processing the world around them. And considering my students’ language and communication delays, debriefing or trying to explain the “why” of these things is impossible.
Kathy Sterling
Liberty, Texas

I applaud Erika Christakis’s courage in writing “Not Just a Drill.” As an elementary-school counselor and a certified trauma practitioner, I agree that lockdown drills risk scaring and traumatizing children in an attempt to protect them. For 30 years, I have witnessed the evolution of lockdown drills from nonexistent, to low-key “code reds,” to a post–Sandy Hook lockdown protocol so well practiced that one officer noted it was “like 600 children just vanished.” Now, armed with data from other school shootings, police advise even elementary-school teachers to consider ways to escape with their students or fight an intruder if necessary, and not merely to hide huddled in the cubbies. But how can we practice that? What next? Of course safety drills have value, but educators must protect both children and childhood. And every single day, we must earn and uphold our students’ trust.
Catherine Mallam, M.S.Ed.
Havertown, Pa.

Last year I wrote an opinion piece for JAMA Pediatrics, “The Return of Duck and Cover and the Imminence of Death—What It Means for Physicians,” to remind physicians that these active-shooter drills could have consequences, as the duck-and-cover drills of the 1950s and early 1960s had consequences.
Toxic stress develops in the context of intense and ongoing stress that activates a child’s stress-response system. It occurs in situations lacking the support of parents and other caring adults and can lead to an overactive response system and increased stress hormones, which change the structure of the brain and affect learning, social relations, emotions, judgment, and impulse control. Could active-shooter drills, as currently practiced, provide a culture for the growth of toxic stress in children? The more we make people aware of the potential consequences of these drills, the better we can protect the mental and physical health of our children.
Ms. Christakis writes about the “adultification” of children. This includes, for example, the imposition on children of the adult task of disaster preparedness and response. The adultification of children is an important concept to consider; in this milieu of violence and active-shooter drills, let us also consider the traumatization of our children.
Mary E. Woesner, M.D.
New York, N.Y.

Behind the Art

Members of The Masthead, The Atlantic’s membership program, can read exclusive stories such as the one excerpted here, which provides insight into the editorial-art process. To join, visit

At the most basic level, editorial art exists to grab your attention. If the art persuades you to pause, the words get the chance to do their job. Editorial art can signal an incredible array of detail. Does the story feature a particular person, time period, or topic? Is the tone wry, somber, shocking, or uplifting?
Consider Edmon de Haro’s illustration for “Not Just a Drill.” De Haro quickly communicates the topic of the story by using the ubiquitous school-crossing sign. Then he signals that something deeply familiar has become profoundly unsettling just by adding bulletproof vests. The sign that once cautioned drivers (Watch out for students) now cautions children: Watch out for gunmen.
This is editorial art at its finest. De Haro not only captures the topic and the mood, but also demonstrates the writer’s argument: Our current system puts the onus on children, not adults, to stay safe at school.
Katie Martin
Associate Art Director, The Atlantic

The Big Question

On Twitter, we asked people to pick their favorite reader responses to April’s Big Question. Here’s how they voted.

Q: What was the best sequel in history?

36% The Godfather: Part II

35% The Empire Strikes Back

18% The Odyssey

11% The New Testament

Story Update:

The Fertility Doctor’s Secret,” by Sarah Zhang (April), stated that Donald Cline had fathered at least 48 children with his patients. In mid-March, The Atlantic learned that the number of biological children had grown to at least 50, confirmed by DNA tests. Some of the children are advocating for a fertility-fraud bill, which has now passed the Indiana Senate.

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