In today’s political climate, the question of whether or not to impeach the president of the United States is often thought of in political terms.
But there is a much deeper concern at the heart of the question.
An impeachment inquiry in the House is unlikely to send Trump packing before Election Day 2020 because Senate Republicans won’t convict him. And it’s impossible to know whether an impeachment inquiry will hurt or help Trump’s chances of being reelected.
Does this mean impeachment should be off the table? No. There’s a non-political question that Congress should consider: Is enforcing the United States Constitution important for its own sake—even if it goes nowhere, even if it’s unpopular with many voters, even if it’s politically risky?
Every child in America is supposed to learn about the Constitution’s basic principles of separation of powers, and checks and balances.
But these days, every child and every adult in America is learning from Donald Trump that these principles are bunk.
By doing whatever he could to stop the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including firing the head of the FBI, Trump told America it’s okay for a president to obstruct justice.
By issuing a blanket refusal to respond to any congressional subpoena, Trump is saying Congress has no constitutional authority to oversee the executive branch. He’s telling America that Congress is a subordinate branch of government rather than a co-equal branch.
Forget separation of powers.
Goodbye, checks and balances.
By unilaterally shuttering the government in order to get his way, Trump told us he has the constitutional right not to execute the laws whenever it suits him.
By directing the attorney general, the Justice Department, the FBI and the secretary of the Treasury to act in his own personal interest rather than in the interests of the American people, Trump is saying that presidents can run government for themselves.
By unilaterally threatening to cut off trade with the second-largest economy in the world, Trump is telling us he has sole authority to endanger the entire American economy. (Make no mistake: If he goes through with his threat, the U.S. economy will go into a tailspin.)
The core purpose of the Constitution is to prevent tyranny. That’s why its Framers distributed power between the president, Congress and the judiciary. That’s why each of the three branches was designed to limit the powers of the other two.
In other words, the Framers anticipated the possibility of a Donald Trump.
Fortunately, they also put in a mechanism to enforce the Constitution against a president who tries to place himself above the law and to usurp the powers of the other branches of government.
Trump surely appears to be usurping the powers of the other branches. Under these circumstances, the Constitution mandates that the House undertake an impeachment inquiry and present evidence to the Senate.
This may not be the political thing to do. But in order to safeguard our democracy, it is the right thing to do.
This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.
Robert B. Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley and former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His film, Inequality for All, was released in 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @RBReich.