Ever since the day he was elected president, there has been a liberal fantasy of either the impeachment or resignation of Donald J. Trump. Perhaps never more so than during last week, after his dumpster fire meltdown following Charlottesville. I was joking with CFR Founder Leonard Jacobs a few weeks ago that it’s impossible to write a column earlier than 24 hours before it’s due in this atmosphere. I wrote the original version of this post a week ago. That was foolish.
I think I speak for most liberal Americans when I say that we want, need and yearn for an escape from this president. A lot of the paths towards that goal are incredibly challenging. However, I love a good escapist trope as much as anyone else, so I thought I would explore a few scenarios. Here’s a few ways it could happen.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: the reasons for Congress to introduce articles of impeachment are clear-cut. However, I’d politely proffer (just kidding! have you met me?) that even if a video surfaced of the president being sodomized by Putin while screaming “Collude me!,” the GOP would make excuses for him as long as he kept signing whatever legislation they want him to sign. That is, if they actually could pass legislation. I have yet to get a really firm gauge on the GOP’s sincere reaction to Trump’s support of white supremacists and the alt-right following Charlottesville. Barring that finally being enough for them (which it likely won’t be), how else can we get ex-President Trump by 2020?
Option one: Resignation. I find it hard to believe that this president would resign without a strong case of someone to blame. If he makes it to 2018 without an indictment or major scandal (and he’s certainly redefining what that means), I see an opportunity here. I believe it’s very likely for the Senate to flip and there is even a small opportunity for the House of Representatives to do so, depending on the Supreme Court’s ruling on a crucial upcoming gerrymandering case. If that happens and the Democrats have any brains whatsoever, the first thing they’ll do is go full McConnell on the president’s ass and introduce articles of impeachment. Such a development would give President Trump the opportunity to say “I could never deal with this obstructionist Congress!” and peace out.
Option two: Massive criminal indictment. Robert Mueller is a smart guy and has kept an incredibly tight lid on an investigation during what has otherwise been an abnormally leaky cycle. My guess is that he is building an intensely tight, fully fleshed-out, decisive case. Whether or not he can point the finger at the president is yet to be seen; given the Trump administration is leakier than a papier–mâché boat, I suspect if there is a “smoking gun,” we’d have already heard rumblings of it.
Option three: A real, proper, unheard-of-as-yet scandal. I’m talking ridiculous, unavoidable, distinctly un-American evidence of immense wrongdoing. Thus far into Trump’s presidency, his followers have proven willing to look past a staggering number ridiculously “inexcusable” incidents — including more than one just last week, which would have sunk any other president. However, if something came out that was so un-American, indictable and extraordinarily indecent (all of which I believe to be possible), he would have no excuse, despite his bloated ego, but resign before facing an inevitable impeachment trial, with populist support no longer behind him.
Option four: Outright, full-blown civil war. This is a new one, added to reflect Charlottesville and its aftermath. I have some pretty rage-filled friends on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t believe that at any point during the eight years of George W. Bush, or even during the seven months of Trump (dear God, has it really only been seven months?), have I ever seen my friends on the left so incensed. The racists and neo-Nazis and their ilk now feel more license than ever to spout their hatred. Lately it seems more days than not that shit’s about to get real; we’re at a level of pique I have never seen in America. What could spark such an event? A very public murder on either side. A riot with more than a few fatalities. And, very possibly, a serious move to impeach or remove the president. I think it would whip Trump’s supporters into a frenzy if General Kelly or the Cabinet moved to apply the 25th Amendment or the Congress moved toward impeachment. We would then face each other as a nation and decide what we stand for: an outdated, hateful ideology, or founding principles. It may seem hyperbolic, but a much smarter Berger than I has a pretty articulate view on it.
Will any of these things happen? I’m not sure. Trump’s most loyal followers have shown that they will forgive anything, even if (or especially if) it’s directly against their best interests. GOP elected officials will timidly and politely deride his more base comments or use of Twitter, but smile and nod and make excuses. Their rage over his Charlottesville statements, sincerely felt or otherwise, will fade. I don’t feel that Trump will complete an entire term, either way, whether by impeachment or otherwise. Mike Pence is who the party wants, anyway. Pence would be better for the GOP (and conversely, perhaps far worse for the Democrats) because he’s slyly clever and significantly more nuanced in realpolitik than Trump, therefore he might be more effective at implementing the GOP agenda. He’d also arguably be harder to beat in 2020. If side of Congress flips in the midterms, the Democrats would be his counterweight.
Donald Trump’s biggest enemy is Donald Trump. We will count on that. In the meantime, Pence in 2018? A Democrat in 2020? What will save the country? A liberal can only dream.