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Can the Popularity of Impeachment Matter?

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According to an ABC News / Washington Post poll, 49% of a sampling of the U.S. public wants impeachment begun (they don't specify when, but presumably any moment now) against Trump, while 43% do not. There are almost certainly millions of additional Democrats who would move into the pro-impeachment column if that party's leaders did so. Same with Republicans. Many more Independents might also jump on board if the case were publicly made and momentum built to make conviction in the Senate seem plausible in an age when absolute loyalty to partisanship goes unquestioned.

Already 60% of the public "disapproves" of the job Trump is doing. And, in a further sign that the public sees what's going on somewhat accurately, 45% say corruption has increased since Trump arrived in D.C., while 13% say it has decreased.

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The new poll results include for the sake of comparison, numerous poll results from the Bill Clinton presidency, none of which found impeachment support as high as it is now for Trump. Yet Clinton was impeached.

But does Clinton being impeached, and nearly being convicted, despite the majority of the public being opposed suggest that strong public support for impeaching Trump will get Trump impeached? Or does it suggest the exact opposite?

The Washington Post reports on the new poll, and notes that, "In January 1974, well into the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon's poll numbers on impeachment were better than President Trump's are now." Yet, in the end, Nixon saw the writing on the wall and resigned.

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But that was after Congress advanced the cause of impeachment, which increased public support, which further increased Congressional action, in a virtuous cycle increasingly covered by the media and during an age when partisanship was far less strict, Republicans less corrupted, and Democrats dramatically less cowardly.

The biggest challenge for the notion that popular support leads smoothly to impeachment is the history of the Bush-Cheney years, which never even made it into its "first draft" in journalism. Public support for the impeachment of either George W. Bush or Dick Cheney was, for years, close to or higher than it is now for Trump. Most polling companies refused to poll on impeachment at all, even for good-old U.S. dollars. It wasn't pollable, supposedly, because it wasn't news, supposedly, because it wasn't happening in Congress. But there was as much or more Congressional activity on impeachment then as now. And the first poll ever done on Cheney found 54% in favor of impeachment.

Read how Newsweek reported that a majority of Americans favored impeaching Bush in 2006:

"Other parts of a potential Democratic agenda receive less support, especially calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a 'top priority,' but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done. (Five percent of Republicans say it should be a top priority and 15 percent of Republicans say it should be a lower priority; 78 percent oppose impeachment.)"

You could read that three times before noticing that the key fact is this: 28 plus 23 equals 51. That is to say: a majority of the United States wanted Bush impeached, and more than half of that majority wanted it to be a top priority.

Contrast that with ABC /Washington Post trumpeting the news this week that 49% want Trump impeachment proceedings to begin. We do have to remember that partisanship has grown ever worse, that the Democrats in the House are still "led" by the same Nancy Pelosi who refused to allow the impeachment of Bush or Cheney, and that Republicans have tied their boats to the Trump yacht. But the media has taken a very different approach to covering impeachment during the past 20 months. To say that the media outlets are all explicitly in favor of it would be misleading. But most of them cover it as a serious possibility to be debated, which I certainly take as indication that they favor it more than they favored the impeachment of Bush Jr. -- and certainly it is having the predictable impact on the public. Underestimating the power of the corporate media is probably easier than overestimating it.

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Some other factors must be considered, however -- especially these two: on what grounds will Trump be impeached, and why do the Democrats in Washington currently oppose it.

For most Americans, and most media outlets, the topic of impeachment is virtually synonymous with Russiagate. But a Russiagate impeachment hearing could be a disaster even without starting World War III, because wild accusations could fall short of being backed up by the slightest shred of plausible evidence. The primary result could be the further hardening of the current understanding that impeachment is unworkable or only for sex or only for Republicans to use, that something is wrong with the very process of impeachment -- rather than there being something wrong with impeaching people for lying about blow jobs or for charges manufactured as cold war propaganda to distract attention from election failures. A secondary result could be the entrenchment of the notion that facts are things to choose to fit one's fancy or partisan loyalty, with Democrats declaring the case against Trump to be painfully "obvious" and Republicans declaring it all "fake." A tertiary result could be the increased understanding that impeachment is a process driven from within Washington, D.C. I hope it's unnecessary for me to add that all of these results would be disastrous.

In contrast, an impeachment driven by the public, against the consensus within Washington, and against the media's preferences, could create representative government. I recommend these resources from RootsAction.org for a sensible approach to impeachment:

> Draft Articles of Impeachment

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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