Well this didn’t take long, did it?
Donald Trump, the most-unlikely and least-liked president in the history of the United States, had barely celebrated his first 100 days when calls for his impeachment started flying faster than Andrew Weiner dick pics at a Girl Scout cookout. For the good of democracy, don’t you see, the Republicans must not only be kicked to the curb in the 2018 midterms, but the president himself must be thrown into the street, just like he once tried to evict that old lady from her house in Atlantic City!
In the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, whose recent testimony on Hillary Clinton’s emails was so flawed and incompetent that his underlings immediately issued a clarification to the Senate Judiciary Committee, virtually every non-Republican #NeverTrumper (plus Sen. John McCain, who has some good reasons to hate Trump) has called for The Donald’s head on a platter. And this was all before the tantalizing possibility of a “Comey memo” detailing various attempts by Trump to shut down an investigation of possible ties between former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and Russian operatives.
But let’s get real: At this point in the game, all the explainers about how impeachment works (the 1990s called, they want their sex scandals back!) and adapting the 25th Amendment’s ability to remove the president from decision-making during colonoscopies to the current crisis are evidence-free exercises in ideological masturbation. If we are going to survive not just the Trump years but eventually get around to kick-starting the 21st century, we’re going to have become smarter media consumers and demand more from both our politicians and the press. “The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo,” explains the Paper of Record, “but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.” As Reason’s Scott Shackford has noted, that’s what Joe Biden would call a “big fucking deal” if it turns out to exist and to be accurate. It’s also a pretty big if at this point.
But even before Comey’s possible “paper trail” documenting President Trump’s demands (which may or may not actually rise to the level of impeachable offense) came to light, his enemies were out in force. For god’s sake, they wanted him impeached even before he was the Republican nominee.
“An attempt to obstruct justice is an impeachable offense,” huffed Andrew Sullivan in New York magazine last week. “And Trump has just openly admitted to such a thing” because “sources close to Comey” said the president-elect asked the FBI director for his “personal loyalty.” What unemotional analysis. Remember that a year ago, Sullivan called the possibility of a Trump presidency an “extinction-level threat” to mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Elsewhere in New York, Jonathan Chait, who is as doggedly a Democratic partisan that exists in print, put out an article under the headline, “The Law Can’t Stop Trump. Only Impeachment Can.” Trump’s high crime for Chait was the completely opaque charge that Trump shared classified intel with Russian officials visiting the White House, a charge flatly rebutted by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, who said the shared info was “wholly appropriate” and that “the president in no way compromised any sources or methods.” For Chait though, and so many more either openly in “the Resistance” or just fellow-traveling, the real problem is that America never anticipated peckerwoods being in the Oval Office. “The system is set up with the unstated presumption that the president is a responsible person who will act in a broadly legitimate, competent fashion,” writes Chait. “The system is designed so that the only remedy for a president who cannot faithfully act in the public interest is impeachment.”
Forget all that Madisonian mumbo-jumbo about “if men were angels, no government would be necessary.” A real-estate developer from Queens with history’s worst comb-over is about the bring the Statue of Liberty to her knees like an ISIS captive. Indeed, whether or not James Comey’s memos detailing his version of Trump’s perfidies against a free-and-independent FBI—you know, that august institution which has one of the very worst records among any law-enforcement agency of abusing power —The Atlantic’s James Fallows has already said that the mere firing of Comey is “worse than Watergate.” Think about that for a second. No one disputes the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president and he can fire him whenever he wants. What “Watergate” revealed was not simply Richard Nixon’s willingness to lie and cover up criminal activity committed on his behalf, but an entire apparatus to spy on, pervert, and undermine elected government.
Assuming the worst about Trump at this point, his behavior doesn’t come close to rising to that level or the actions undertaken by, say, Ronald Reagan during Iran-Contra. If anything, Trump is such an idiot that he is sealing his own fate by forcing congressional Republicans, most of whom don’t particularly care for him anyway, to call for bigger and better investigations about Russian influence in the 2016 election. Short-termers such as Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz are already subpoenaing whatever memories James Comey jotted down during his generally mediocre-to-awful tenure as head of the FBI. Comey is the guy, we should recall, who tried to strong-arm Apple into undermining its phone encryption even though it was able to crack the San Bernadino’s phone just fine, who gave Hillary Clinton aides immunity and allowed them to destroy their laptops, and recently attacked the First Amendment because it gave Wikileaks space to publish authentic-if-purloined documents. The best thing you can say about Comey is that he’s no Louis Freeh or J. Edgar Hoover, which is the textbook case of damning with faint approbation.
Needless to say, none of this absolves Donald Trump of any wrongdoing. But impeachment talk this soon and this thick is coming not from a place of seriousness but pure partisanship and ideology masquerading as disinterested belief in the public good. When the Republicans moved to impeach Bill Clinton back in the 1990s, it was the same thing and it didn’t exactly work out that well for many of the main conspirators, or for the country at large. Among other things, the impeachment push indirectly led to the ouster of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, which eventuated in an actual child molester being way high up in the presidential line of succession.
The impeachment of Bill Clinton was one of the major mileposts in the long, ongoing shift of America from a high-trust to a low-trust country, one in which faith, trust, and confidence in most of our major public, private, and civic institutions have taken a massive beating for decades now. Maybe it was the Warren Commission Report that got the ball rolling, or Lyndon Johnson’s infamous “credibility gap.” All the secret wars in Cambodia and Watergate sure didn’t help and the mind-boggling revelations of the Church Commission might have the final nail in the coffin of trust. The Pinto disaster sure didn’t help, nor did other revelations of private-sector fakery. You throw in freakazoid oddness such as the People’s Temple, United Way scandals, and rampant Catholic Church buggery, and, well, what do you expect? Across the board, fewer and fewer of us trust the government, the media, labor, corporations, etc. to do the right thing given the option of doing the wrong thing.
And get this: However unpopular Donald Trump is, Congress is even less trustworthy. Libertarians especially ignore this slide in trust and the rush to partisan-driven calls to undermine elected officials absent actual evidence at our peril. Low-trust countries don’t actually shrink the size, scope, and spending of government. Perversely, citizens call for “government regulation, fully recognizing that such regulation leads to corruption.” It helps to understand that Donald Trump, for all of his obvious bullshitting, flip-flops, and lies, isn’t the cause of anything but the effect. The 21st century in the United States began with an election that was effectively settled by a coin toss, which does little to create faith in institutions (especially as Republicans in Bush v. Gore appealed to the federal government, while Democrats called for state’s rights). Then came the 9/11 attacks, an intelligence failure compounded by a massively mendacious disinformation campaign that resulted in a Middle East quagmire, ballooning deficits, and a mind-bending bailout of mega-corporations. President Obama’s stimulus plan failed every measure it proposed as success and was capped by passage of a health-care law that ultimately spawned the “Lie of the Year” for 2013. Along the way, we also had a series of national intelligence heads baldly lie about what sorts of information was being collected (illegally, legally, does it matter?) on law-abiding Americans? We’ve learned that police act poorly in many circumstances, that local and state governments are awful as often as they are outstanding, and that corporations (Volkswagen!) will try to get away with lots of chicanery too.
Of course trust in institutions is mostly at all-time lows! That’s why Donald Trump was able to beat Hillary Clinton in one of the weirdest, most-unpredictable elections ever. Trump is the function of our disillusionment and that’s one of the reasons why he is ultimately an electoral dead-end. Never a consistent conservative or Republican, he is the sterile end of 20th-century politics, the last in a long line of bullies-who-will-tell-us-how-to-live that has no future. Despite some good deregulatory gestures, he is too mired in 1970s’ nostalgia and a world that ceased to exist even before his first divorce. That was enough to squeak by Hillary Clinton, who also didn’t bother to offer a future-oriented vision for America, so secure was she in her historic victory.
For the rest of us, though, especially those of us of a libertarian bent, we need not simply to expect better but to demand better. Regardless of slow economic growth throughout this century, regardless of the endless wars in which America is mired, and regardless of the ever-growing wall of petty and grand regulations and restrictions against new ways of doing business and living life, we are living in a fundamentally Libertarian Moment, one in which more and more of us are more able than ever to live where we want, work where we want, marry whom we want, eat what we want, and travel where we want. As Matt Welch and I wrote in The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America, politics is a lagging indicator of where America is headed. Outside of the political realm, our lives are mostly getting better. The challenge—a brutal, one given current circumstances—is how to drag politics into the 21st century so that we finally leave behind two major political parties that are so awful neither of their candidates could win even 50 percent of the popular vote.
One thing is clear: Cleaving to right/left, conservative/liberal, Republican/Democrat tribes in a world in which more and more people define themselves as libertarian isn’t going to work. Neither will falling for fake-news narratives about Trump’s historical badness. We need a new politics that is ultimately based on policy, not personalities; policy, not politics; and policy, not partisanship. We need to demand more of our elected representatives and we need to start yesterday.
reason.com · by Nick Gillespie