Be Careful About What You Wish for: Impeachment v Paralysis


So be careful what you wish for
‘Cause you just might get it
And if you get it then you just might not know
What to do wit’ it, ’cause it might just
Come back on you ten-fold

Liberal cyberspace is in a frenzy of impeachment fever. NPR, though its commentators keep saying it won’t happen, keeps talking about what kinds of considerations would lead to impeachment. Metropolitan newspapers could not avoid comparing the firing of Comey to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. For those who aspire to a more just, equal and peaceful world, now is a time to be careful about what we wish and act for. Before you sign that petition consider its consequence.

Given the gerrymandered nature of Congressional districts, there is but slim hope of changing the House of Representatives in 2018. While many commentators focus on the 23 seats held by Republicans in Congressional Districts Clinton won, these are mainly Republican suburbs that couldn’t swallow Trump. It is unlikely Democrats could take all or even most of these in 2018; but if Trump were impeached, and the Democrats could not run against Republicans claiming they are his proxies, this seems almost impossible.

The hope for a more progressive and representative House of Representatives after 2020 rests in the ways state governments process the results of the 2020 census. In the meantime, in the presidential race of 2020 the Democrats’ biggest single resource will be Trump’s unpopularity.

Impeaching Trump before November 2018 makes unlikely the already difficult task of nudging the House of Representatives to a more progressive (or anyhow less reactionary) complexion. Having him in office through the election season of 2020 gives the Democrats a big fat target they have a good chance of beating.

Impeaching Trump sooner rather than later puts Mike Pence in the Presidency. His policies are arguably worse than Trump’s – he is consistently reactionary – on everything, women’s rights, civil rights, labor law, social security, health care – in places where Trump is occasionally ambiguous and confused. That said, Pence is an experienced politician, a former governor, in sync with Congressional Republicans. His White House would most probably be a far cry from the whacky Comedy Central to which we are now subject. The Congress might actually get some work done. Would that be good for the country?

Repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare)? A good thing for whom? Tax cuts for the rich? More inequality? If and when things “calm down” in Washington these things could come to pass and more. By contrast, a long drawn out siege in which Trump suffers a “death of a thousand cuts” lasting into 2020 might reduce the list of disasters on whose brink we are now perched.

A Boston NPR talk show host, the esteemed and former liberal activist Jim Braude, observed on Thursday, May 18, that the appointment of an independent counsel might enable the actors in Washington to “get over it” and cooperate, and do some work. His otherwise more centrist co-host, Margery Eagan pointed out that paralysis might be better for the country. One is reminded of the principle to which medical doctors try to adhere: “First do no harm.” Margery wins on points.

About the author

Robert J.S. Ross, PhD

Dr. Ross received a B.A. from the University of Michigan in 1963, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1966 and 1975, respectively. He has been at Clark since 1972. He was a Director of the International Studies Stream at Clark, and is currently an officer of the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium ( and a member of the Board of Directors of the International Labor Rights Forum ( He now teaches on a part-time basis. View all posts by Robert J.S. Ross, PhD →

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