Trump’s racist abuses demand impeachment
The House of Representatives has passed a resolution condemning President Trump’s racist comments directed at four members of Congress, telling them to “go back” to other countries. But the House must do more than just condemn. It must impeach.
Many people are under the mistaken impression that only prosecutable crimes are impeachable. But the Constitution’s standard for impeachable offenses—“high Crimes and Misdemeanors”—is not limited to prosecutable crimes. Congress has repeatedly reaffirmed that this phrase, drawn from a long history in England, has a broader reach. As the classic book on impeachment explains, this standard includes serious abuses of office that “are plainly wrong in themselves to a person of honor, or to a good citizen, regardless of words on the statute books.”
Trump regularly tramples that line. Since taking office as president, Trump has repeatedly sown discord within our society by encouraging bigotry, hatred, and violence. He re-tweets anti-Muslim videos, calls the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people,” and uses the bully pulpit for racial tirades, such as his attacks on (mostly black) football players who protest against police brutality. This rhetoric fulfills no governmental function, but is simply misuse of his taxpayer-funded position to sow racial hostility.
We’ve seen this before. In 1868, Congress impeached (and very nearly convicted) President Andrew Johnson over his efforts to block post-Civil War Reconstruction so that the defeated Confederate states could re-impose the antebellum system of white supremacy. The impeachment charges centered on Johnson’s efforts to fire a pro-Reconstruction official, but the tenth article cited a feverish rant in which Johnson blamed a white-led massacre on congressional efforts to extend the vote to black people.
Often, Trump has gone even further, and specifically urged government officials to lawless violence. In 2017, he encouraged police to be “rough” with “thugs” that they arrest. This speech was widely understood, including by police chiefs nationwide, as endorsing police brutality against arrested people. A few weeks later, the commander-in-chief exhorted the nation to “study” an urban legend about General Pershing committing war crimes against Muslims—not as a cautionary tale but as a model for the future. The president makes a mockery of his constitutional duties to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” and ensure that the government not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Indeed, Trump has spent most of his time in office enacting policies that have no constitutionally-legitimate justification whatsoever, but are rather motivated entirely by bigotry. This includes his Muslim Ban (thinly veiled as a national security measure, but really working towards his earlier pledge for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”), internment camps for Latino immigrants (including children separated from their parents), and border and immigration policies based on Trump’s insistence that Latino immigrants are “rapists” while Haiti and African countries are “s—hole countries.” And when Congress refused to follow him down this racist path by funding his border wall, he declared a national emergency so he could misuse funds that Congress had appropriated for other purposes.
Now, he directs racist harangues at four members of Congress, women of color duly elected by their constituents. (All four are U.S. citizens; three were born here, and one has been a citizen longer than Trump’s own wife.) Here, too, there is precedent. The tenth article of impeachment against Andrew Johnson charged him for making “inflammatory and scandalous harangues, and . . . loud threats and bitter menaces” against Congress.
The House must answer the call of history and impeach Trump for his long pattern of abusing his office for the unconstitutional purpose of promoting racism and bigotry, by misusing agencies of the executive branch to punish, humiliate, and unlawfully discriminate, and misusing his official position to promote hatred, hostility, and unlawful violence.
In the words of Alexander Hamilton, impeachable offenses “relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” And Trump’s race-baiting—no less than his obstruction of justice, or emoluments from foreign governments—causes ongoing injury to American society. Social scientists have quantified the “Trump Effect”—measurable increases in racial violence and hostility associated with Trump rhetoric. We are at the point in America where chanting the name of the president of the United States at an opposing high school basketball team is universally understood as a racial taunt. Impeaching Trump would not end the Trump Effect, but it would delegitimize it as the official voice of the United States.
The United States has often fallen short of the promise in the Declaration of Independence that all people “are created equal.” And other presidents have not been without fault. But Trump’s efforts to undermine American values from within are dangerous and unprecedented in the modern era. Congress must demand his impeachment.
Al Green is a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving the 9th District of Texas. Ron Fein is a constitutional lawyer, the Legal Director of Free Speech For People, and a co-author of “The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.”
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