If the arguments for and against the impeachment of President Donald Trump are not countless, they feel that way, but almost none of that matters now, late in the third year of his presidency.
It is true House Democrats have threatened and vowed to go down this unusual road before, with less justification – but none of that really matters now, either, or at least, it does not have to.
If the Democrats can soberly seize their opportunity, and more, their responsibility, to hold this president accountable for appearing to seek to trade foreign military assistance for something of value, dirt on his rivals; and his administration for seeking to conceal it; it will be enough. That is why we think the impeachment inquiry now underway is essential.
Critics fret that it will turn into a divisive, partisan spectacle that ultimately strengthens President Trump’s re-election bid. Yet, so much of his presidency has been a wild rumpus already.
We are in a new place, with the House moving toward impeachment of a president who is standing for re-election. It is awkward, but the accusation goes to the heart of our ability to have that election fairly. Those circumstances make the inquiry more urgent.
Of course it is partisan. Impeachment is a political more than a legal act. In a two-party system, when a party in power cannot hold itself accountable for fear of losing that power, we expect the other party to do it. If House Democrats, whatever their weaknesses or flaws, did not go forward with this inquiry based on this evidence, what good would they be as a check on power unbridled?
These are the highest possible stakes. If President Trump did what he seems to have done, the damage is not just to decency, democracy and behavioral norms, but to sinew and muscle: To national security.
The United States was once, and not so long ago, thought to be the leader of the free world, a guarantor of liberty and democracy abroad. This was always an overestimation of American interests, which also could be imperial, grasping and heedless, but there was still the case to be made that with all that power, we sought to do more good than harm.
We heard a lot about this president’s transactional tendencies when the people elected him. It may be that we do not need a transactional leader. The down side is that everything seems to be for sale to the bidder who most advances the president’s political interests.
When it comes to alliances with other countries, it is not hard to see how that tendency weakens and imperils America in the world.
That would be the argument for impeachment.
The bar for an inquiry, which is like an indictment, is lower. And it has been handily met. This Ukraine matter looks terrible to just about everyone who is not part of the president’s inner circle. That is enough to commence an inquiry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman from California who chairs the House intelligence committee, have said all of the evidence for impeachment is already in plain sight.
We think this inquiry, even if it is as brisk as the Democrats vow to make it, must, by testimony and examination, lead Americans through the case. The Democrats still must make the case.
But now the fateful step is taken – and just in time.