It’s hard to find defenders of impeachment—or at least, it’s hard to find good faith, consistent defenders of impeachment.
Just look at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who once voted to impeach President Bill Clinton for obstruction of justice, only to recently assert that it’s impossible for a president, and in particular Donald Trump, whom he supports, to obstruct justice. Most of the hypocrisies are more garden variety. When Republicans seek to impeach a Democratic president, Democrats howl that it’s unscrupulous naked politics; when a Republican is in the White House, Democrats rediscover the value of impeachment, while the GOP suddenly recognizes its recklessness.
Recent debates on this topic aren’t a symptom of a newly polarized age, and they aren’t a sign of national decline, the Harvard legal scholar (and former Obama adviser) Cass Sunstein said Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
“The very word impeachment sounds kind of unfamiliar and British and dusty,” he quipped, but in fact, impeachment is a fundamental part of the American project, spanning back to the Declaration of Independence, which stands as articles of impeachment for King George. Yet despite this integral role, impeachment remains little understood, even among top political leaders, with the result that most of the articles of impeachment brought against American presidents have been somewhere between legally dubious and grievously wrong—and so have some of the comments made about the prospect of impeaching President Trump.