If It Feels Good, Don't Do It

Charlie "Chuck" Cook
January 15, 2021

If any president ever deserved impeachment, it is Donald Trump right here and now. After his stoking the angry mob and sending them off to Capitol Hill last Wednesday, those of us who had doubts about whether Democrats should have pushed for impeachment a year ago have to concede that the case is infinitely stronger now.

In short, it’s pretty clear there is no talking House Democrats down from impeaching Trump. Even if there is no chance, either before Jan. 20 or after, of 67 senators voting to convict, the House is going to do what the House is going to do.

There are plenty of morals in this story. One is that the American people should never again elect a president who has never worked or served in government in any capacity, has virtually no sense of history, and hasn’t the faintest notion of concepts like separation of powers or federalism. It’s hard to expect someone to abide by norms if they have little or no knowledge of or appreciation for them to begin with. A high school American government class could have opened up new vistas of knowledge for the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Trump’s nomination was a breakdown in the system for the GOP, a once-great party that may yet be again. But the last five years will be a time that many Republican stalwarts will look back on with both regret and shame. Another systemic failure enabled him to win 270 Electoral College votes in 2016.

After last week, I get why Democrats want a pound of presidential flesh right now, and want to punish Republicans for having enabled him. The most obvious play is to force upon them the choice of voting for impeachment and alienating what is left of the Trump base or alienating swing voters and others who will interpret any opposition to impeachment as support for Trumpism. It also isn’t hard to see why so many Democrats, in and out of Congress, find it so psychologically therapeutic to mark Trump and anyone who supports him for life.

But it might be wise for Democrats to step back, take a deep breath, and think about the divisions in our country and the healing that needs to take place. How beneficial is it, really, to rub salt into the wounds of Republicans, even if it does feel good to do so? And what are the implications of rubbing it in?

A year ago, many of us were not fully aware, did not appreciate the level of anger and despair this country, on either end of any social, economic, racial, or political spectrum one would want to construct. Just as those thousands of misguided people invading the Capitol building somehow thought they were performing some patriotic act, the rest of us should wonder what drove them to do such a thing. Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by law enforcement officers as she tried to penetrate the door leading into the House chamber, was a 35-year-old Air Force and National Guard veteran, who had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. And she was not the only combat veteran in that mob. What made them do such things, beyond “getting caught up in the moment”?

A Democrat might want to consider also why 74 million of their fellow Americans voted for Trump in November, 11 million more than in 2016. Forty-seven percent of all voters cast their ballots for him, with pluralities or majorities in 25 states. Do that many really think that Democrats will govern as socialists? Do they expect that Democrats will endanger our national security? Did Democratic elected officials say or do anything else that contributes to this?

Over the last year we have seen plenty of unrest. Thousands marched in peaceful protests after the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery, to name just a few. These killings were simply the triggers that set off a larger anger about inequality in both income and opportunity, with many Americans feeling that they no longer have a fair shot, or any shot, at achieving the American dream. There is a lot of anger out there, and not just among those who stormed the Capitol last week.

Every word and action should be weighed in light of whether it will help bring people together or add fuel to the fire.

At noon a week from Wednesday, Joe Biden will put his left hand on a Bible and right hand in the air to take the oath of office and inherit the responsibility of trying to heal a deeply injured country. While he can do plenty via executive authority, much will need buy-in by Congress, where Democrats have a wafer-thin majority in the House—and paper-thin in the Senate.

Democrats cling to an advantage of only four seats in the House, with one Democratic-held seat (New York’s 22nd District) still in doubt. Should three Democratic members join the Biden administration as expected, the party’s majority will shrink to just a single seat, albeit temporarily. Thus, nothing even remotely partisan and ideological can pass the House. The Senate, meanwhile, will be 50-50, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking ties. That means the chamber can be only as progressive as the least progressive Democrat in the body. (Here’s looking at you, Joe Manchin.)

Under these circumstances, successful coalitions can be built only from the center out. In the House, for example, if something can’t get the support of the Problem Solvers Caucus, it probably won’t have a whole lot of hope.

To get anything meaningful through, Biden, Harris, and congressional leadership will need some type of Republican support, ideally some cooperation from soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Anything that makes that more difficult needs to be carefully considered. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean you should do it.

This article was originally published for the National Journal on January 12, 2021.