To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment by Laurence Tribe, Joshua Matz, Basic Books, US $28.00, Pp 304, May 2018 ISBN 978-1541644885
The American politics are in pretty bad shape. It is not just about politicians. It is equally true of the American society as a whole. Recent studies from the Pew Research Center show that divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political questions and values have reached record levels, dwarfing divisions along lines of gender, race, religious observance, and education. These differences, moreover, were matched by high levels of interparty hostility. Fifty-five percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans said that the other party makes them feel afraid. Those numbers jump to 70 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans if we consider highly engaged citizens. Forty-one percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans said that the other party’s policies are a threat to the nation’s well-being (an increase of 10 percent over the past ten years).
In To End a Presidency, Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz argue that modern Americans are quick on the draw when it comes to demanding impeachment. The history shows how unusual that makes us. Only in the post-Clinton era has impeachment talk has become a routine aspect of partisan political strife. President Trump’s irregular conduct is the most important explanation for the current fixation on impeachment. Some of his sketchy dealings and abuses of power might well constitute “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and it is wholly appropriate to insist that Congress investigate these subjects. But there is also a much bigger picture to consider. The broken political dynamics that we’ve described provide crucial context for calls to impeach President Trump. They also help to explain why frequent resort to impeachment talk will outlast him.
Impeachment talk has now become so common and casual that it’s easy to forget the United States has never actually removed a president from office this way. By design, Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz argue, impeachment has always been an exceptionally difficult power to invoke. Polarization and hyper-partisanship have made that truer now than ever before. When the House majority and the president belong to the same party, impeachment is a virtual non-starter. If the house does impeach the president, we arrive in the Senate. There have been moments in the US history when the Senate lived up to its reputation as the world’s greatest deliberative body. In this climate, finding sixty-seven votes to convict a president will be a Herculean task. There are more than thirty-four senators at any given point from deep blue to deep red states.
There are increased risks associated with impeachment. In the US political system, the powers of the presidency are vast and are used to their fullest and deployed maliciously and/or recklessly. Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz argue that they can corrode the very fabric of democracy. As polarization, partisanship, and tribalism have weakened external checks on the executive branch, Americans have come to rely increasingly on the president’s good faith and self-restraint. That is a precarious position for any democracy.
To End a Presidency is a judicious and nuanced account of the origins and process of impeaching a US president. They show that talk of impeachment is relatively recent and dangerous. They also show that political divisions have become sharper and deeper than divisions along gender and race. Consequently, fantasy has replaced political realism. To End a Presidency is a well-researched and -argued book. It is a must-read for everyone who cares for American politics and the future of democracy in the United States.