Term Limits and Impeachment
The nation is embroiled in the controversy of impeaching the President of the United States. The nation is also in the period of run-up to the 2020 General Election. These two facets of constitutional imperative serve to limit the ability of a President to become abusive of his power and damage the democratic nature of this great republic.
This impeachment effort comes at a time in the Administration which is unlike the previous two impeachments undertaken by the House of Representatives. Both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were already into their second term of office and were not able to seek reelection under the provisions of the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution. Donald Trump is in the unique position of facing both removal from office for cause and reelection for a second 4-year term.
Nixon’s contemporaneous resignation made the official impeachment and Senate trial both moot. Clinton’s impeachment resulted in a Senate trial but that trial resulted in acquittal and he remained in office to the end of his 8 years as President. Trump being faced with certain impeachment but uncertain removal has not completed his first term and may stand for reelection in 2020 if not removed. There is some debate over whether or not he could be both removed and reelected. As stated earlier, his is a unique set of circumstances.
The only other impeached president, Andrew Johnson, did stand the Senate trial but remained in office by a single vote. He was in his first term after acceding the Office when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. He failed to get his party’s nomination and Ulysses S. Grant became the 18th President.
Assuming Trump is removed from office he could seek election to the Oval Office again unless the Senate also, in a separate vote, disqualify him from future office. Many pundits and commentators make a strong case that the Senate will summarily acquit Trump of his transgressions and allow him to remain in office and eligible for reelection. However, if they do remove him it is unlikely they would be so punitive as to keep him from holding future office.
Standing for reelection and facing Impeachment/removal are two remedies the US Constitution asserts as remedies for poor, bad or criminal behaviors of Presidents. One method doesn’t trump the other. The impeachment process is both a legal remedy and a political remedy for a President who damages the nation or fails to defend the Constitution. Generally, the opposing political party in our two-party system is the instigator of the impeachment proceedings. The President’s own party would normally see his actions as less onerous and capricious due to the damage removing him would do to their stature.
The dual nature of impeachment as a legal remedy sets it apart from the political nature. When crimes are committed, cover-ups and obstruction of investigations are mounted, the house and Senate have the duty to remove the offender or forever give tacit approval to whatever the President chooses to do whether for the good of the country or the defense of the Constitution or not.
Elections, on the other hand, are mostly popularity contests. Popularity trumps even the vilest accusations, or proved or even adjudicated crimes. We have elected convicted felons to office in several states. We have elected men who have shown a preponderance of evidence of their illegal sexual proclivities, financial crimes, tax evasion and multitudes of civil complaints and bankruptcies. Spousal cheating and multiple wives, sex for hire and payments to stay quiet have not pre-empted some men from public office or being a confirmed federal judicial appointee.
The United States has a Representative Democracy due to the limited ability of several hundred million voters to be involved in the thousands of bills and other legislative actions our House and Senate must handle each year. We cannot have direct voting on every proposal or all of our time would be consumed reading, analyzing and voting on the minutia of governance. This is why we elect trusted representatives to do our business. Not all such reps deserve our trust and we must be able to exorcise them at the earliest opportunity. This is especially true in the middle of their terms of office.
Some fraction of 225 million eligible voters are not a good judge of suitability of a candidate to be President, a Representative, Senator, Governor, etc. Likewise, they are not good judges of the qualifications of such candidates. We have elected men and women who have zero political experience or statesmen-like abilities. What the electorate mostly does is employ their emotions to vote for who they like. The object of that affection is not likely to change as they approach an election day. This is why the true battle in such elections is not to educate and inform the voter about the issues but to merely turn out a higher number of people who already have their immutable opinion.
That is why we must have the twin remedies: Impeachment and Elections. They are not the same and they produce completely different outcomes. It is also why neither should be able to pre-empt the other. Both are valid approaches to maintaining our democratic way of government.