“Recall that both modern-day impeachments in this country were launched against Presidents who had won overwhelming reëlection victories. Impeachment in this sense is anti-politics; it presumes that there exists a constitutional principle that overrules the politics of popularity. The point of an impeachment is not to do the popular or the poll-tested thing but to have the courage to do an unpopular thing, because what is at stake is a larger, even existential matter. […]
It is the unprecedented gravity of our moment, still perhaps insufficiently felt, that makes this confrontation essential, whatever the political consequences. Pelosi, too, now acknowledges this fact. As she told The New Yorker in September, about Trump, “He has given us no choice. Politics has nothing to do with impeachment, in my view.” The political consequences of impeachment are no longer the primary or even the secondary issue at stake; more important is the survival of the principle of the rule of law against the unashamed assertion of arbitrary power.
Postponing a reckoning until the next election implies that what is at issue in Trump’s attempted extorting of the Ukrainian government are a series of policy choices, which voters may or may not endorse. According to this reasoning, if Watergate had happened during Nixon’s first term, and he had been reëlected anyway, attempted political burglary and obstruction of justice would have become acceptable practice. By invoking law against arbitrary power, the Democrats may not “win,” and who knows what the political outcome will be, but, as Pelosi says, there is no longer a choice. Law and arbitrary power remain in eternal enmity. You pick your side.”
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