This Is Why the Impeachment Clause ExistsRoundup
tags: Founding Fathers, Constitution, Ukraine, impeachment, Trump
ADAM SERWER is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers politics.
As Jeffrey Engel writes in Impeachment: An American History, the authors of the Constitution foresaw the possibility of a corrupt president who abuses his power to stay in office. James Madison argued at the Constitutional Convention that it was “indispensable that some provision should be made for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief magistrate.” George Mason asked, “Shall the man who has practised corruption and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment, by repeating his guilt?” And as Gouverneur Morris concisely put it, “This Magistrate is not the King but the Prime Minister. The people are the King.”
This is one reason that perceptions among Democrats shifted so fast. In a republic, the people are sovereign. The president used his authority to criminalize or suppress his political rivals, in violation of the people’s right to choose their leadership. His acts exemplify the scenario the Framers feared when they contemplated a corrupt president using executive power to keep himself in office, unaccountable to the people who elected him. Trump’s conduct here is not just impeachable; it is why the impeachment clause exists.
What the Framers may not have contemplated, however, is the extent to which a demagogue is capable of convincing his supporters that the president and the people are one and the same, and therefore, the president is incapable of betraying the people, because he is their purest expression made flesh. Trump is but a crass distillation of this anti-democratic idea, but if it were not deeply rooted in the Republican Party, he could never have ascended to its leadership.
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