Donald Trump Is Beyond Censure
The Chicago Tribune's weak-kneed equivocation would hand Trump the keys to the kingdom.
Recently, the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune came out against impeachment of Donald Trump, arguing instead that Congress should censure him for his actions.
The problem with this calculus is that for any action Trump does that is worthy of censure, impeachment is the only means by which the censure can be made effective. If censure were an effective threat to contain Trump's actions, then he never would have gone as far as he had. He does what he does because he doesn't care about what other people say is right or wrong... the only thing he cares about is who's going to stop him. He said as much in debate with Hillary Clinton, when he told her that if he had done anything wrong in his business career while she was in government, it was her fault for not stopping him.
The Tribune writes: "We do not envision a weak-kneed admonishment that Trump can dismiss."
I invite the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune to engage in a little thought experiment with me. I invite them to first describe to themselves what an undismissable, strong-kneed admonishment would look like.
They give us some clues in their editorial:
"A resolution of censure would spell out in detail the president’s betrayal of trust and his failure of responsibilities by placing his personal political interests above his obligations to the nation. This resolution could adopt the language that could otherwise appear in articles of impeachment."
But I'd like them to go further and actually imagine the language they think Congress might use to specifically prevent Donald Trump from dismissing it. The specific charges. The specific inescapable forcefulness.
Having done that, I invite them to imagine Donald Trump attempts to dismiss it. "Fake news," he says. "Biggest scam in history," he says. "Another hoax like Russia," he says. "They tried to impeach me and failed, so they went with censure. Censure? What's 'censure'? It's nothing. It means they got nothing," he says.
Now, the Chicago Tribune have assured us that he won't be able to do this. I invite them now to explain what exactly prevents him from doing so. What is the mechanism invested in a censure that prevents him from dismissing it? Why would the people who have listened to him dismiss all the reasons for the censure suddenly stop listening to him when he dismisses the result of those reasons?
A censure is toothless. It is an action without an enforcement mechanism. Its impact depends fully on the voluntary cooperation of the body that receives it, and Donald Trump is incapable of feeling censured.
When Donald crashed a charity fundraiser, taking a prime seat he hadn't paid for and getting in on a photo op for a cause he contributed nothing to, they did not try removing him. They did not physically bar him and they did not inflict any consequences for his trespass, and so he proceeded exactly as if any disapproval of his actions did not exist. The hosts' forbearance towards him did not net them any goodwill in return; he did not become a donor, and they burned social capital with the donor whose place he usurped.
The banks Donald Trump was in debt to back in his Atlantic City days tried lecturing him and putting him on a strict budget when he was in danger of defaulting. They tried to deal with him privately, like he was a reasonable man. His response was to buy an expensive engagement ring for Marla, breaking a personal rule against giving a woman negotiable assets as a gift, just to show them how little he cared about an agreement they had no stomach for enforcing.
Donald Trump does not live in a world where "censure" means anything except one more grievance to rile up his base, one more slight that must be avenged. To him, rules that have no teeth aren't rules at all but only obstacles to slow the paths of lesser men.
What's a censure? It's a warning. What's that mean in dollars and cents? Zero. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Does a censure make it harder for him to operate? Does it include any sanctions? Does it remove or constrain any of his power in any way? It does not.
If we as a nation censure Donald Trump for his misuse of power, he will not change his ways... not for the better, anyway. In handing him a penalty that does not exist, a formal invitation to feel really bad about what he dd, we will in his mind vindicate him.
He thought he could get away with it and he did. That's what a censure will mean to him. It will confirm his gut instinct that he was right to do as he did, and that everybody who told him he couldn't or shouldn't was a fool, and the Democrats were out to get him no matter what but that they lack the gumption to take him down.
A censured Donald Trump will not be a chastened Donald Trump, but a Donald Trump who is twice as angry and twice as fearless as before.
The Tribune labels removal as the ultimate penalty for a president, and they're right about that. But it's also the first penalty we can inflict on a president. Congress can't put a president on time out. Congress can't put a president on probation. Congress can't make a president run every executive action past them until they decide the lesson has been learned.
The nature of supreme executive power is that a person either holds it or they do not. When someone has shown they cannot be trusted with it, there is only one remedy available.
Institutional disapproval means nothing to Donald Trump. If Congress censures him in 2019, it’ll be a cornerstone of his campaign in 2020. He’ll wear it like a badge of honor.
He must be impeached and removed.
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