Members Only | February 2, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Face it, impeachment doesn’t work. Trump proved Congress can’t check a criminal president

Impeachment has never been helpful. It might be harmful, though.

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While Donald Trump’s legal fate is in question thanks to investigations at the Justice Department and state probes in Georgia and New York regarding his behavior while president, as well as his businesses dealings and tax obfuscations, he proved untouchable as president. 

He was twice impeached by the House for obstruction and abuse of power and for inciting the J6 insurrection. But the Senate, led by the Republicans for the first, and with the smallest of majorities for the second, gave neither indictment much consideration. 

Impeachment, despite bipartisan votes, failed each time.


Ted Cruz said the quiet part out loud: If the Republicans retake the House, they should impeach Joe Biden – “whether it’s justified or not.” 


In fact, impeachment or the threat of it has failed each of the previous times it had been invoked against a sitting president.

Richard Nixon would likely have been impeached, but saved himself by resigning. That’s probably the best impeachment-related outcome we have seen in our history. Of course, Nixon wasn’t. His successor quickly pardoned him to save him federal indictment post-presidency.

While Andrew Johnson’s and Bill Clinton’s impeachments were arguably worthy of due diligence, what can hardly be avoided is that impeachment does not really work in holding the American executive accountable or responsible to the Congress or the people. 

It didn’t work when Thomas Jefferson attempted to remove the Federalist judge Samual Chase from the Supreme Court in 1805. Neither did it work in Great Britain. That’s where the framers of the US Constitution got the idea. Its impotence in parliament led to the end of the practice in that country by the middle of the 19th century. 

So: Why are we still doing it?

Indeed, should the executive’s party have a House majority, there’s little evidence suggesting he should worry, however warranted it might be. Furthermore, even when the House does impeach, unless his party is outmanned by upwards of 10 to 15 seats in the Senate, that executive is likely safe from conviction.

Though it hasn’t proved helpful, it could prove harmful. 


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Impeachment could serve as a tool used in bad faith to smear and diminish, rather than a tool used to check rogue presidencies. 

Texas Senator Ted Cruz declared as much weeks ago when he earnestly said that should the GOP recapture the House, the Republicans would have a number of charges relating to impeachment to consider regarding Joe Biden – “whether it’s justified or not.” 

The idea that the Republican would even consider charges against Joe Biden after having done so much to obstruct and obfuscate the impeachment proceedings against the 45th president multiple times over the course of but a single term is both treasonous and unbelievable in the literal senses. It should not, however, be much of a shock.

The Republicans in the Congress fought all evidence coming to light regarding the campaign of politically born pressure involving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They called it a fraudulent witch hunt. They did this as real evidence of wrongdoing across Trump’s staff, and by many of his contacts, was emerging. 

Through their individual and collective effort, the Republicans in the Congress allowed the 45th president to damage the prestige of the presidency in serious, long-lasting and unpredictable ways. 


The practicable, functional precedent that was set by Trump’s second acquittal might allow future presidents, with the proper congressional protection, to do all Trump attempted and succeeded in doing, as well as much more, even if 45 finds himself indicted post-presidency.


Then in the aftermath of the attempted J6 insurrection, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, as Donald Trump was leaving office after being defeated by Joe Biden, that Congress should wait to impeach the soon-to-be ex-president once he was gone.

McConnell would then do all within his power to make that process as disjointed and unlikely to result in a conviction as he possibly could, and the 45th president would be saved by the Senate once again. 

Yet today, as we are witnessing the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol comb through and unfurl last year’s attempted coup, it has become clearer than ever that Donald Trump, his supporters and his advisors attempted to, in numerous and various ways, subvert democracy itself. 

And while these impeachments have likely taken their toll to certain extents through the disintegration of public opinion around Trump and the GOP, impeachment has simply not ever put a practical check on the office and power of the president that this nation requires. 

The practicable, functional precedent that was set by Trump’s second acquittal might allow future presidents, with the proper congressional protection, to do all Trump attempted and succeeded in doing, as well as much more, even if 45 finds himself indicted post-presidency.

Should presidents become so constitutionally unrestrained, it would mean the end of this nation as well as its civil and political traditions as we have, for two and a half centuries, known and understood them.


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But congressional Republicans did not see it that way. They not only sought to protect Trump from the cudgel of accountability vis-a-vis impeachment, despite the reasonable and evidence-rich charges levied against him. They are now openly declaring that they would weaponize the instrument of impeachment maliciously. 

Impeachment has long been utilized within and without America, and it has often been abused, too. Abuse, however, is a nuanced term when discussing impeachment, precisely because the abuse in question can be observed in its application or it’s failure to be properly applied.

Even though impeachment is impotent, remember that every single vote remains the surest means by which the American people can hold a president accountable for his deceit, perfidy or treachery.


Trent R. Nelson is a historian and political and foreign policy analyst. He is a contributor to Liberal Currents. Follow him @TRichard_Nelson.

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