By Robert Wright, editor of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter
To impeach or not to impeach? Last month’s BuzzFeed report that Trump suborned perjury led to a new wave of impeachment talk. Then, awkwardly for those doing the talking, the Special Counsel’s office said the story wasn’t entirely accurate.
But rest assured that there will be more impeachment talk. And I’m guessing that when all the evidence comes out, this talk won’t be wholly without foundation. Which raises the question: should you join in the talk? Should you urge your congressional representatives to impeach, and become an impeachment enthusiast, and click on so many impeachment-related headlines that Google starts mainlining impeachment news into your brain?
Your call. I’d just like to lay out some reasons it’s a tough call—why it’s not obvious to me that a drive for impeachment is a good move, and why getting too wrapped up in this issue could be a waste of time and energy.
Suppose, for starters, that impeachment results in Trump’s early departure from the White House. That is: either (1) not only does the House impeach Trump (which could well happen) but the Senate convicts him (much less likely, since that requires a two-thirds vote); or (2) Trump resigns under the pressure of impeachment, somewhat as Nixon did.
In these scenarios, we wind up with Mike Pence as president. Now, in many ways, I find the prospect of a Pence presidency significantly less horrifying than the reality of a Trump presidency. On the other hand, Pence’s governing ideology would probably be, basically, Trumpism—partly because of some of his natural leanings and partly because he would inherit Trump’s base and a GOP reshaped by Trump. Or, at least, it would be Trumpism with a few rough edges smoothed off.
Some of those edges are definitely worth smoothing off (e.g. Trump’s mindless violation of norms, and his mind-numbing day-to-day noise level). But precisely because Pence would in this sense seem like a breath of fresh air, he’d probably be more likely to get re-elected in 2020 than Trump would. So the impeachment of Trump could be good for Trumpism in the long run.
And in some ways Pence could be worse than Trump. Though Trump has largely obliged the GOP’s neoconservative foreign policy establishment, he at least has spasms of doubt about the value of prolific military intervention. These spasms aren’t shared by the establishment and probably wouldn’t be shared by a President Pence.
Don’t get me wrong: Like Resisters in general, I feel good when I hear of some new piece of damning evidence about Trump, or when I imagine him leaving the White House in disgrace. But part of the point of mindfulness is to not accept your feelings as guides to thought without carefully inspecting them. When I pause to think about it, I’m far from sure that Trump’s leaving the White House via impeachment in, say, January of 2020 would be better than his leaving via the ballot box in January of 2021 (though, of course, a January 2020 departure has the virtue of precluding a second term in office).
You can play this game of “what ifs” all day. The “What if the House impeaches and the Senate doesn’t convict and Trump doesn’t resign” scenario has all kinds of hypothetical branches emanating from it, ranging from “Trump is usefully chastened” to “Trump destabilizes the world via various gambits aimed at preserving the allegiance of his base during the impeachment drama.”
I hope all this explains why I’m an impeachment agnostic. Emotionally drawn as I am to the impeachment scenario, when I reflect on the matter I realize I just don’t know if impeachment would be good or bad.
Amid the uncertainty, I try to stay true to something I’m more sure of: The ultimate enemy is Trumpism, not Trump. So I shouldn’t let my loathing of the latter undermine, or even distract me from, opposition to the former. Which means, among other things, trying to reduce my loathing level. (And here, actually, Trump’s sheer clownishness can be an asset; I find it harder to hate a malicious buffoon than, say, a malicious mastermind).
I also try to think about what policies best combat Trumpism. If you want to get the biggest picture, longest-term view of what I mean by that, read my aforementioned Wired piece. (Sorry to keep flacking it, but I spent a lot of time on it, and it’s as close as I can come to a magnum opus on why Trump and Trumpism are here and what we should do about it.)
The impeachment whipsaw—first the BuzzFeed story was billed as a nail in Trump’s coffin, after which the Mueller office seemed to put a nail in the BuzzFeed story’s coffin—is, if nothing else, a reminder of one thing: you can save a lot of time by not staying attuned to the ups and downs of the impeachment stock market. And maybe you can use that time wisely.
Each week, the Mindful Resistance Newsletter presents a calm and balanced summary of the news along with reflections and background reading about the problem of Trumpism and how to fight it intelligently.
Robert Wright, editor of the Mindful Resistance Newsletter, is the New York Times bestselling author of The Evolution of God (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Nonzero, The Moral Animal (named one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review), Three Scientists and their Gods (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Why Buddhism Is True.