In a must-read interview on Bloomberg Opinion, former Obama White House counsel Robert Bauer makes the case that impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump may be essential to rebalancing our badly listing democracy.
And he acknowledges that both political parties bear responsibility for concentrating too much power in the executive branch at the expense of Congress,
Bauer’s interview-by-email with Bloomberg’s Francis Wilkinson is either ironic or confessional, given his role in the Obama White House. He served as White House counsel precisely as Obama abandoned his campaign promises to roll back George W. Bush’s extreme power grab and instead opted to grab yet more.
But either way, Bauer is certainly well informed.
“The experience with Donald Trump and his administration,” Bauer tells Bloomberg, “is forcing a reckoning with a problem that has been obvious for some time: the preposterous power, responsibility and expectations that have come to define the office of the presidency.”
Democrats and Republicans both contributed to what Bauer likens to cancerous growth of the president’s institutional authority because “they take offense at the expansion of presidential power except in the circumstances where they would like to take advantage of it.”
But combine an office that is “exceptionally powerful and susceptible to abuse” with “a candidate selection system that is arbitrary” and there’s always been a risk of a president like Trump, Bauer writes.
Trump comes to government without any understanding of how government works, of norms governing the exercise of his own authority, and so forth. Add to that the absence of a moral compass or appreciation of the role of lawyers or the rule of law, and the scale of this problem we face with the presidency in the constitutional order — a problem we have every reason to believe could arise again after Trump — could not be clearer.
So what to do? “The re-invigoration of democracy” requires that “[i]nstitutional imbalances, like that between Congress and the executive, have to be rectified,” Bauer argues.
Specifically, Trump’s behavior “cannot go unaddressed,” which means that “we have to slowly get away from the idea that impeachment is a source of constitutional crisis rather than a constitutional response to crisis brought on by systematic executive misconduct.”
If the record supports it, and there is growing evidence that it does, Congress should not hesitate to initiate a full-fledged and well-designed inquiry into grounds for impeachment. Whatever the outcome, there is enormous merit in clearly identifying and enforcing limits and putting future executives on notice.
Reining in Trump’s out-of-control presidency, by this logic, is the necessary first step toward reestablishing a healthy system of checks and balances.