Convict and disqualify Trump

The case for prudence, for avoiding an impeachment fight, is moot now. We have such a fight, whether we like it or not, and we must decide how it should end. The prudential case for stepping back from the brink of a first-ever vote to convict a president is weaker with the vote coming after Trump has left office. While disqualification is a powerful remedy, it is also less divisive than removal. One of the major reasons why I did not support removing Trump from office in the last impeachment, and have been concerned about doing so even now, is that presidents have democratic legitimacy, and removing them from office deprives the people of their chosen leader. That is not a reason to never remove a president, but doing so for a political offense (rather than for treason, bribery, or other crime in the law) should not be undertaken without a clear popular groundswell to do so.

Now, however, the people have had their four years of Donald Trump. The Constitution squarely authorizes the remedy of disqualifying him from holding office again. A Senate trial during the Biden presidency is not a “coup,” because it will not affect who holds power. It is not an attack on Trump’s voters, who will go on just the same, and choose whomever else they wish to represent them in the future. In a republic, no man is indispensable. It is simply an accounting — Hamilton’s “national inquest” — to hold Trump personally responsible for his conduct in office. It is the judgment of history.

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