70 Easy(if arbitrary) Steps to Impeachment
Using the arguments of a right-wing talk radio host, a Harvard professor, the NFL’s disciplinary policy, some basic math, and giving our lovable president the most leeway I can.
Back when his show was on the local conservative talk station I listened to Michael Savage a lot, he’s kind of a jerk. I won’t focus on his larger points or philosophy, I want to use one argument of his. In the later years of the Obama administration in between semi-constantly accusing him and Hillary Clinton of treason Savage made the bold argument that Obama must be impeached, not an unusual thing for a conservative talk host. His rationale was different, he demanded impeachment not for any one act, none of which he acknowledged rose to the level of an impeachable offense, but instead based on a holistic analysis of a number of shady things that collectively rose to the level of impeachment. Therefore you can start adding things up.
Alan Dershowitz has appeared regularly on CNN discussing assorted legal things. He is an eminent legal scholar who is employed by and was taught at a far superior law school than the one I attended. Whenever anybody brings up impeachment he’ll argue that the charges aren’t specific enough and we aren’t nearly there yet and I’ll agree with him as it pertains to any one specific offense. He’ll then point out that impeachment is a political act and that if they felt like it congress could impeach and remove for jaywalking.
In the Roger Goodell era of the NFL the league has moved to a draconian personal conduct policy for reacting to actions by the players to ‘defend the shield’ essentially punishing players for conduct detrimental to the league. What it feels like people are grasping for when we look for impeachable offenses is a way to criminalize the shady, the ominous, the unamerican. Goodell’s NFL tells us there is another way, something wrong was done and it must be punished. Who says ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ can’t mean conduct detrimental to the office or the nation?
To combine the logic of Dershowitz and Savage(something that I suspect has never been done before) the Congress can throw our lovable president clean back to Trump Tower for basically anything and that basically anything can be a compilation of basically anything. So I set my own rules for a Savage-type compilation that could trigger a Dershowitz-type impeachment and/or removal for a trivial offense that would stand-in for the full Savage-type compilation.
Let’s start by giving our lovable president some leeway using some numbers that he likes. We start with the famous 304 electoral votes, call them presidential points.
We add one point for every presidential act that gains bipartisan approval, subtract one point for every unpresidential act that causes multiple members of his own party to say his actions are damaging to America’s status in the world or beneath the office of the president. If he drops below 234, which I believe is the electoral votes won by his opponent then we impeach. So the margin is 70, these are going to be the 70 easy steps.
That’s 70 points to play with over four years, but first we should acknowledge the margin of the popular vote, say add one point per million vote advantage, subtract one per million vote loss. I’m not 100% on my numbers but I do believe our current president lost by something like 2.8 million and I won’t round up because I’m trying to give our lovable president the benefit of the doubt so we start by taking away 2 points. Maybe if Kobach and Pence find those 3–5 million illegal votes he can get 3–5 points back.
Positive points: Note — I’m trying to go in chronological order, but I’m not sifting through tweets CNN-style so I will miss some.
Address to Congress, well received and well read off a teleprompter. 1 point. Up to 69.
Handling of Congressional baseball shooting. 1 point. Would’ve been willing to throw in a bonus point if he’d actually attended the game. Back to 70.
Competent speech in Poland. I would object to his embrace of a regime that has been moving in a distressingly totalitarian direction, but hey I’m giving the man the benefit of the doubt. 1 point. Up to 71.
Negative points: This could take a while.
Crowd size at the inauguration. Meaningless, pointless, and a controversy that we associate more with Sean Spicer than the president. The criteria is did multiple republicans say it was unpresidential. Yep. 1 point. Back to 70.
Yemen raid. Interestingly enough this raid was also a big part of that congressional address heading the positive side of things. The point here is the complete rejection of any responsibility, blaming it as a raid planned under the Obama administration and an action by the generals that he didn’t really have any control over. Was it unpresidential. Yep. 1 point. Down to 69.
The wiretapping, oh the wiretapping. 1 point. I hope that’s well enough known that I don’t have to elaborate. I need to explain something else here. If it gets really crazy, and this is the first really crazy one where the condemnation is almost universal even from his own party I think it’s time to tack on a bonus point. 1 point. 67.
North Korea part 1. This is for the Mar-a-lago meeting with Shinzo Abe, which featured our lovable president discussing classified material in a public setting. Some might say it isn’t a big deal, but it was objected to by his own party, but it is very basic for the job and the sort of thing he’d have slammed Hillary for during the campaign. 1 point. 66.
Michael Flynn. I think he’s roughly around here, he was fired around Valentine’s Day and was with our president for the Shinzo Abe incident. Flynn doesn’t really fit here because firing him was the right call, but this was such a mess with him being defended and his job being safe earlier in the very day he was fired. The handling of the Flynn thing has been slammed by multiple members of his own party, poor Mike Pence was mislead and as a bonus our president still hasn’t said that Flynn did anything wrong. I feel like I could tack on another point, but Flynn will turn up enough further down the list for one point to suffice here. 1 point. 65
The Ninth Circuit. I’m not really covering the travel/muslim ban because firstly everybody knew it was coming and secondly Professor Dershowitz would tell me it was totally legal and within his authority. I am covering his response to the judicial rulings and personal attacks on the various judges involved. 1 point for the so-called Washington judge. 1 point for the appellate court. 1 point for threatening to unconstitutionally break up the circuit. 1 point for travel ban 2.0, Hawaii judge, Maryland judge, Fourth circuit, I’m lumping all of that together because four points for one issue already seems harsh. That’s four points. 61.
James Comey. I feel like we’re close to Comey time. Firing Comey while investigating him is worth a point for the Republican reaction all on its own. It’s worth a bonus point for legitimately raising the specter of obstruction of justice and impeachment.(apologies to Dershowitz who would say that it is still way too early to call it obstruction) If you think Comey is worth more than two points don’t sweat it. This is just for the firing. 2 points. 59.
Slamming Sadiq Khan for no particular reason. Denounced by republicans, I feel like it’s worth a bonus point for reacting to a terrorist incident by blaming the victims, but I am trying to give the man the benefit of the doubt. 1 point. 58.
Threatening James Comey. This is for the ‘better hope there are no tapes’ tweet. Denounced for unpresidentialness(even if that isn’t a word it’s closer to being one than covfefe) and a bonus point for spawning another Nixon comparison. Don’t worry, there will be more James Comey later. 2 points. 56.
Assorted issues of confidentiality. I mentioned the mar-a-lago incident with Shinzo Abe, but I’m using this as a catchall for other issues. The leaking of intel to the Russians in a meeting closed to American press. Openly talking about naval movements that should have been classified. Tweeting out a Fox and Friends story based on leaked confidential information. Technically our lovable president is the only one that can legally leak anything he wants to, so there’s nothing illegal and it wasn’t heavily criticized, but this has to be worth a presidential point. 1 point. 55.
Note: I’m trying to finish this fairly quickly so it may get less chronological as I try to remember all the craziness. Sorry.
Health care legislation(AHCA version). I’m trying to avoid making this about policy, but slamming the house freedom caucus, the house moderates, and trying to blackmail them out of office. Not presidential and not cool with his own party. 1 point. 54.
Voter integrity. The commission itself wasn’t heavily criticized by republicans, so it doesn’t count for my purposes, but the request for information from the states was. Now that’s not really a presidential thing, but his tweets asking effectively every secretary of state and election official in the country what they had to hide, that was condemned and does count. 1 point. 53.
Health care part 2. This one is for calling the house bill mean, I concur, a lot of democrats concurred, but republicans were not fans. 1 point. 52.
The Paris Accords. I’ve already written about the sheer stupidity of it. The entire world, minus Syria and I think Guatemala(if it’s Nicaragua I apologize I always get those two mixed up) agrees that it was profoundly stupid. That really hurts American standing in the world and while republicans were somewhat on his side enough were opposed to fit both criteria. Fitting both criteria certainly merits a bonus point. 2 points. 50
Russian meddling. Good god, the Russian meddling. The incidents are too numerous to mention but repeatedly and constantly standing against the conclusion of his own intel community has got to be worth something. 1 point. 49.
Health care part 3. We’re into the senate now and this is where it gets compounded with a lot of presidential stupidity and a lot of republican objection to presidential stupidity. Running attack ads on Dean Heller. Not officially a presidential act, but nobody really doubted that he approved of it. 1 point. Attempted blackmail of the state of Alaska via Secretary of the Interior Zinke. 1 point. Slamming a man that rushed back from brain surgery to cast his vote on the matter. 1 point. We aren’t even at Mitch yet. 3 points. 46
Don Jr. and the Russians. This is a little harsh I’ll grant you. I’ve focused entirely on things done or said after entering office, so the actual meeting doesn’t count. The cover-up, that counts. Authoring Don Jr.’s statement that presumably he knew to be inaccurate at the time has certainly been rejected. 1 point. 45.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. Primarily for his incessant twitter rampage against the attorney general that he beleaguered, heavily rejected across the ideological spectrum, but especially on the right. 1 point. Almost universal condemnation is definitely worth a bonus point. 1 point. Actually this deserves another bonus point for blaming Sessions for in effect not locking up Hillary when our lovable president is the one that said it was just campaign talk and he wouldn’t be locking her up after he won. Nothing like good old-fashioned hypocrisy. 1 point. 3 points. 42.
The transgenders, ah the transgenders. The transgender military ban was roundly condemned on several sides, most importantly the right. Definitely worth a point. 1 point. 41.
James Comey and Mike Flynn. Definitely out of chronological order. This is for the intersection of the two where our lovable president allegedly told Comey to drop the matter. Worth a point because it is a terrible idea, it raised the specter of obstruction of justice again, and because our lovable president has defended it. 1 point. 40.
The Senate, oh goody the Senate again. Not about Mitch, but he’s coming. This is for his numerous calls to abolish the 60 vote filibuster as another attack on the institutions of the American government and because unlike the Gorsuch confirmation the Senate has shown no willingness to go nuclear on legislation. 1 point. And a bonus point for using this as a response to losing a senate vote under reconciliation that required 50 votes. 1 point. 38.
The leakers and James Comey. This is about the incessant war on leaks and specifically the misleading characterization of unconfidential information as confidential. There hasn’t been a firestorm of denunciation, but this happens so often that it’s definitely worth a point. 1 point. 37.
Mitch, what exactly did Mitch do again? Back to the good old days before Charlottesville when the problem was the flagrantly unpresidential attacks on the Senate Majority Leader roundly condemned by his colleagues. 1 point. 36.
The Saudi-Qatar issue. For jumping in enthusiastically in slamming Qatar on the Saudi side in their bizarre middle eastern embargo without really knowing any facts and leaving the rest of his administration to try and clean up his mess. 1 point. 35.
North Korea part 2. Mostly for the rhetoric that has been objected to by his own side, but also for somehow not understanding that you can’t really get harsher than threatening nuclear war. I also strenuously object to the fact that our president doesn’t seem to understand his own policy or what a threat is. Only 1 point because I’m struggling to avoid condemning simple stupidity. 1 point. 34.
Charlottesville part 1. This was the inspiration for this piece, it is a prime piece of conduct detrimental but not criminal. 1 point. Another point for the near universal condemnation of his own party and the world. 1 point. You know what, bonus points for the neo-nazis saying he did a heck of a job. 1 point. 3 points total. 31.
Charlottesville part 2. I started writing this between the horrid ‘presidential’ statement of Saturday and the somehow even worse statements at the press conference on Tuesday. I haven’t seen all the condemnation of this one but I feel confident in giving it the same 3 points from Charlottesville one. 3 points. 28.
Usual disclaimer, this is by no means a complete list. It might be even closer to zero. I feel like I probably missed some Flynn/Comey/Sally Yates things that could qualify. It’s worth pointing out that this is without even mentioning the assorted attacks on the media because I really don’t want to start listing every time the man called CNN or the Washington Post fake news.
With seventy presidential points to play with our lovable president only had to keep to 1 unpresidential statement or action every twenty days under my arbitrary standard. He’s managed 43 of them (more or less as the title said it’s mostly arbitrary) in a hair over 200 days. At this rate he’ll cross my arbitrary threshold by the end of the year.
That’s the first two thirds of my Savage-Dershowitz argument, I doubt anything like this will ever be adopted, but it’s time to consider what we need to do about this. We may need to get creative.
It’s time for us to consider whether presidents should be held to a minimal ethical or competence based standard just like a DB for the Miami Dolphins or any other football player. Should we really be okay with holding the president to a lower standard than his employer holds a 22 year-old that completed three years at Penn State? I don’t think so, but I’d love to hear the argument that there’s no standard for him. I’m deeply curious about the logic behind it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Dershowitz’s assertion that such an impeachment and/or removal is something that could be appealed and conceivably overturned by the Supreme Court. I don’t know whether the Supreme Court even has the right to overturn what Dershowitz contends is a purely political act, but again I would love to hear the argument that the president cannot be held to a simple de minimis standard of conduct and/or competence.
Well that was fun. I may have to update this as presidential or unpresidential acts warrant.