G. Terry Madonna & Michael Young: Hamlet on the Potomac | TribLIVE.com
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G. Terry Madonna & Michael Young: Hamlet on the Potomac

President Trump speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office April 2.

The angst in Washington over impeaching President Trump is producing a “Hamlet on the Potomac” moment that even Shakespeare might appreciate. Democrats want to do it, but most Republicans don’t, and voters overall, while divided along party lines, are mostly opposed.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while fully occupied by her daily hand-to-hand combat with the president, thinks impeachment is premature. Translation: Democrats will lose politically more than they gain if they impeach Trump. She is almost certainly correct about that. There is zero chance that a GOP-controlled Senate responsible to try Trump if the House impeaches would ever vote to convict and thus remove him from office.

While articles of impeachment would deeply embarrass Trump and likely reveal much that would wound him, the cost-benefit ratio is anything but clear. Independents, who well may determine the 2020 election, are lukewarm at best for impeaching. In addition, Trump’s hardcore constituency of a third or more of the electorate are more likely to be galvanized by impeachment than abandon Trump.

Democratic partisans are mostly arguing that Trump is unfit for office, has broken the law and perhaps is dangerous, justifying his removal. Republicans argue as strenuously that Trump has been a successful president and the architect of a booming economy that has produced both peace and prosperity.

What’s a bitterly divided country, already deafened by the toxic rhetorical drumbeat of the approaching 2020 presidential election, to do?

Do we really need or want another divisive partisan battle about who should be president when we are only some 17 months from holding the election that will determine that question? Isn’t the ballot box the best way decisions of this magnitude are made in a democracy?

Unfortunately, too often these days we do things because we can rather than because they are good for the country.

Republicans have been guilty of this recently with their failure to hold Supreme Court nomination hearings during President Obama’s final year as well as their machinations to usurp a revered Senate institution like the filibuster to naked partisan ends.

Democrats, however, when in power, have not behaved better. They ran roughshod over Republican minorities through most of the New Deal period, and more recently Obama undermined congressional majorities by greatly overusing executive orders. He used 276 of them between 2009 and 2017.

But now Democrats can mend their ways by choosing not to impeach just because they can do it. Moreover, there is a larger point here — one which Americans of both parties have been slow to recognize. Impeachment for presidents doesn’t work — it never has.

The authors of our constitution, gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, carefully considered the “Articles” that would delineate impeachment, Article 1, Section 3, and Article 2, Section 4. James Madison’s notes reveal the delegates were repeatedly frustrated about the process, tabling their deliberation multiple times before coming up with the imperfect solution we have today: impeachment in the House, followed by a trial in the Senate.

Had they set out to consciously produce a more convoluted politicized process they could not have done better than what they actually did. Consequently, impeachment of the president has only been used twice in the nation’s history: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Neither was convicted and removed from office, and both impeachment processes were fetid with naked political motivations.

The recent 25th Amendment has been proposed as a way to handle presidential disability. But most scholars doubt it is practical beyond very narrow circumstances.

So, after some 230 years of national history we have had just one way that actually removes a president or keeps one — and that is our quadrennial presidential election. The next one is Nov. 3. It’s not only a better solution than impeachment — it’s one that works.

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