In 1797, Senator William Blount earned the dubious honor of being the first American politician to be impeached by the United States House of Representatives. Blount was a signer of the U.S. Constitution (representing his home state of North Carolina) and the first elected senator from the brand-spanking-new state of Tennessee, but he was first and foremost a land speculator. He used his family’s fortune–the Blounts were slave owners, natch–to purchase vast tracts of land beyond the Appalachian Mountains, mostly in Tennessee, in the hopes that the new nation would rapidly expand westward. Blount was right, of course, but he was too aggressive; the market for Tennessee real estate collapsed in 1795, and by the time he joined the Senate, he was millions of dollars in debt.
Desperate to appease his debt collectors, Blount hatched a convoluted conspiracy to drive up land prices in the American West with a few other equally fucked land speculators. Their plan involved using state militias and indigenous tribes to assist in a British takeover of Spanish-controlled Louisiana and Florida in exchange for free access to the Mississippi River, as well as the ports of New Orleans and Pensacola. (Imagine fighting a war over access to Pensacola, FL!) This plan, Blount and his conspirators hoped, would reignite westward expansion and once again make their vast tracts of land valuable. (Remember, this is little more than a decade after the end of the Revolutionary War–collaborating with the British in 1797 is akin to collaborating with, let’s say, the Russians in 2016.)
Blount’s conspiracy was uncovered the way most diabolical conspiracies are: through one man’s complete and total incompetence. One of Blount’s collaborators handed a government agent a letter–in a Knoxville bar, naturally–that detailed the conspiracy; the agent promptly delivered the letter to President John Adams, who urged Congress to do something about the treasonous freshman senator.
And they did! The House quickly voted to launch impeachment hearings and the Senate sequestered his seat (the political equivalent of changing the locks while your shitty boyfriend is out getting drunk), but Blount was never tried by his elected peers. The Senate decided that impeachment proceedings didn’t apply to sitting senators (of course); instead, they just removed Blount from his post and booted him back to Tennessee, where he died disgraced, penniless and forgotten.
Just kidding! Blount was celebrated upon returning to his adopted home state. The governor threw him a goddamn parade. A few months later, Blount was elected Speaker of the Tennessee Senate, a position he held until he died from a mysterious illness in his massive (and still standing) Knoxville mansion in 1800.
To recap: the first American to ever face impeachment was a broke, desperate land speculator who conspired with a foreign power to interfere in domestic affairs in order to enrich himself–at the expense of national security and American lives–and faced almost no serious consequences.
History always repeats itself, regardless if you learn from it or not.
Political consequences are not real consequences. This was true in 1797, and it’s still true today. Even if the House of Representatives votes to impeach Donald Trump for conspiring with Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, his allies in the Senate will most likely acquit him. And, even if the Senate does find Trump guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, he will never face any real justice or consequences. Nothing bad will happen to Donald Trump: he’ll still be rich, he’ll still be white, he’ll still be married to a former supermodel that openly despises him, he’ll still have multiple properties around the world, and he’ll still be the most famous person alive. If he is impeached, there is a small chance he could be charged with the crimes detailed in the Mueller Report–as he will no longer be protected by the Department of Justice’s innocent-until-no-longer-President policy–but we all know, deep in our hearts, that Trump will never see the inside of a courtroom for any crime he’s committed. Impeachment is little more than the disciplinary hearing an employee has with their bosses before they get fired.
Not even a week has passed since Nancy Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry and Trump has (on Twitter) threatened to charge Adam Schiff with treason, accused Democrats of staging a coup, and ominously warned that removing him from office would trigger a second American Civil War. He’s had no less than three public meltdowns, including one at the U.N. General Assembly and during a press conference with the president of Finland (by the time you read this, this number will likely have doubled). Coming from Trump, these are hollow, empty threats spewed by a desperate and delusional man who is just now beginning to realize that he is absolutely fucked. Trump couldn’t lead an insurrection against the federal government any more than he could build a business from scratch.
But, as much as it pains me to write this, Donald Trump is right. Removing him from office–whether through impeachment, invoking the 25th Amendment, or by simply not re-electing him–is going to spark an unprecedented wave of violence in the United States: one that will make our weekly mass shooting habit look timid in comparison. The real consequences of impeachment won’t be felt by Donald Trump or the Republican Party or Nancy Pelosi or any other member of the United States government–they’ll be felt by everyday Americans who will have to face the wrath of a bunch of desperate, pissed-off and heavily armed far-right zealots.
And not a single one of us is ready for what happens next.
The Trump administration and their allies around the country have replaced their dog whistles with airhorns. While Twitter liberals are circling the wagons around Nancy fucking Pelosi and sharing stupid memes celebrating a whistleblower who works for the bastion of democracy known as the goddamn CIA, neo-fascists, Christian zealots and white nationalists are all-but-openly infiltrating local governments and security agencies. The agent in charge of the ATF field office in Eugene, OR–where I currently live–proudly sports a SS tattoo on his arm. Washington state representative Matt Shea published a manifesto outlining his “Biblical Basis for War” and regularly calls for Eastern Washington to secede and become a fundamentalist Christian state called “Liberty.” A self-proclaimed white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant had a cache of weapons and a hit list that included Pelosi and cable news anchors from CNN and MSNBC (they also nailed him for possessing a shit-ton of the mild painkiller Tramadol, for some reason). And that’s just a small and recent sample of people we know about–it’s naive and downright dangerous to believe that these are isolated examples, as militia groups like the III%ers and the Oath Keepers continue to openly recruit military veterans and police officers to join their ranks.
These are the people to whom Trump is speaking; these are the people who read his tweets and take them seriously. To most Americans, reading a Trump tweet warning about a coming civil war elicits little more than an eye roll, a shrug and maybe a pithy comment: There goes the President, being embarrassing on Twitter again. But to his base, a tweet calling Adam Schiff a traitor is not a madman talking shit on the internet, it’s their Fuhrer putting a spotlight on an Enemy of the State. When Trump threatens a civil war, his base doesn’t think of it as a desperate attempt to get out of the hot seat, it’s a legitimate call to arms against the mysterious Deep State forces working to undermine the Trump presidency. It doesn’t matter what’s true or false–the truth is irrelevant in Trump’s America. Feelings don’t care about facts.
That’s what mainstream journalists and cable news pundits and the naive-but-refreshingly-earnest #Resistance liberals fail to understand. Taking down Trump, while certainly a noble cause, will do little more than sow chaos and put millions of people, most of them members of already-marginalized and repeatedly targeted communities, at risk of brutal violence. It’s easy to go on Pod Save America and call Trump a “Cheeto” when you don’t have to worry about being murdered for simply existing. Hate crimes have risen three years in a row and show no signs of reversing course–and this is during a time of relative empowerment for people espousing these hateful ideologies. Imagine what they’ll do when they start feeling cornered, or when their Dear Leader’s Senate trial gets beamed to every TV, phone, and computer in the country. If you think America’s problem with white supremacist violence is bad now, just wait until Trump barricades himself in the Oval Office, suspends the 2020 elections and declares martial law from his iPhone.
Does that mean that the House should abdicate their responsibility and not work to impeach Donald Trump? Of course not: it’s just about their last resort before next year’s election. It’s the only thing they can do. But the modern Democratic party is full of gutless career politicians who only want to return to the status quo of the Obama years so they can continue to be spineless cowards that have the authority to launch drone strikes against weddings in Yemen and hospitals in Afghanistan. Most Democrats would be perfectly content keeping migrants in concentration camps so long as Trump was willing to expand Medicare. The only differences between the GOP and the Democrats are the names of their donors and the types of conspiracy theories they believe. If Pelosi, Schumer & Co. had any real morals and ethics, this impeachment battle would’ve started a long time ago; if the Democratic party really wanted progressive, meaningful change, they never would’ve nominated Hilary Clinton in the first place.
Let me be clear: Donald Trump should absolutely be impeached and put on trial. If William Blount faced impeachment for conspiring to collaborate with the British, then Trump should face the same punishment for actively collaborating with Ukraine (or Russia, or Australia, or whoever else he roped into his delusional conspiracies). He should be held accountable for his crimes, his corruption, and the absolute havoc he has unleashed upon our collective sanity. If anything, impeachment is too lenient of a punishment. He should be removed from office, stripped of whatever made-up wealth he claims to have, and forced to live like the people he so thoroughly despises: inside a sweltering, overcrowded cage outside of Brownsville, TX with all of his rich friends and bootlicking cronies. We can’t eat the rich, but maybe we can get them to eat each other. At the very least, he should be forced to listen to Rudy Guiliani sing lullabies until his heart stops beating.
If there was any real justice in the world, we would never hear Donald Trump’s name again after 2020. But, it’s too late for that now–we’ve played right into the hands of a virulent narcissist and allowed his face to get burned into our nation’s corneas. No matter how loudly liberals on the internet scream into the void, no matter how many press conferences Nancy Pelosi holds, no matter how many subpoenas get stuffed into the White House P.O. box, getting rid of Trump, at this stage, does nothing to reverse the damage done and the license he and his people have given to preachers of hate and violence.
Impeaching Donald Trump in 2019 is like treating a stage IV lung cancer patient by getting them to quit smoking: Yeah, it’s a good place to start, but it’s a little late for that now.
And none of us are prepared for what comes next.