Over the past year, we've thought deeply about saving American democracy from rogue leaders. We've grappled with many of the most difficult legal, political, and historical questions posed by that challenge. And on May 15, Basic Books will finally release our take on the subject: To End A Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.
One question that especially intrigues us is the relationship between "impeachment talk" and presidential power. When public discourse is saturated with threats of impeachment, are presidents better or worse off? What about our political system more generally? And why is it that we've seen such a stark increase in impeachment talk since the 1990s?
We tackle those questions in Chapters 5 and 6 of the book. We also addressed them in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this weekend. Here's how it opens:
The 2016 presidential election was the first campaign in American history marked by credible threats of impeachment against whoever won. This was partly because both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had long been shadowed by charges of corruption, criminality and conspiracy. But it also reflected a more unnerving development: the emergence of a permanent presidential impeachment campaign.
Since the failed effort to oust President Bill Clinton two decades ago, calls to remove the president have become standard fare in American politics. In a stark break from the past, a whole generation has come to view impeachment talk as an ordinary feature of our partisan civil war, in which nothing is sacred and the Constitution has been weaponized.
This degradation of presidential impeachment is dangerous. It has trapped the American people in a massive “boy-who-cried-wolf” dilemma. It has turbocharged the forces of partisan dysfunction and democratic decline. And most perversely, it has left presidents freer to abuse their power. To reverse this damaging shift, we must all find our way to a more rational understanding of impeachment’s appropriate role in our constitutional order.