I have become accustomed to daily, even hourly, breaking news but it is the weekend, and for some reason Congress does not hold hearings on Saturday, so I thought I would try to get some perspective on the subject of impeachment by engaging in a thought experiment.
Suppose that some serious leftwing presidential candidate were to run for the nomination and win the presidency on a radical platform whose principal foreign policy plank was a rejection of the seventy year-long imperial project whose implementation has been the foundation of every president, Democratic and Republican, since Roosevelt. There have been right-wing politicians like Rand Paul who have advanced something akin to such a rejection but the point of view has not, to my recollection, played a significant role in progressive leftwing electoral politics. Certainly neither Sanders nor Warren has said anything like this.
Suppose this person was a serious, thoughtful, knowledgeable person who understood quite well how difficult the implementation of such a radical policy reorientation would be, how many solemn treaties would have to be abrogated, how many overseas military bases would have to be closed, how fundamentally the American defense establishment would have to be reconfigured and also, of course, reduced in size.
Suppose also that this person recognized that in the world as it is, the retreat of the United States from an international Imperial stance would open the way for China and other states to occupy the policy space abandoned. The new president might, for example, believe that in the world as it is now economic power, properly deployed, is superior to military power. [That seems to lie at the base of China’s current national policy, at least to some extent.]
What would be the consequences in this country were the new president openly, and after wide consultation, attempt to implement the dramatic policy reorientation on which he or she had run and been elected?
I think the answer is obvious. There would be revulsion, charges of betrayal, accusations of treason, sober, serious principled opposition from the bureaucracy, the media, the corporate elites, and much of academia. And very quickly, there would be calls for impeachment.
Needless to say, nothing remotely like this can be attributed to Trump. This is not a thought experiment about him. It is an effort to think hypothetically about the limits of policy change in modern American politics. I think the policy reorientation I am talking about might in practice be impossible even for a President with a clear and sizable electoral mandate.