REPRISE: Raw Power—Only a threat of immediate impeachment can constrain Trump

Raw Power: Only a threat of immediate impeachment can constrain Trump

Originally published on August 20, 2020

Democrats live in a world where rational analysis, legal and Constitutional norms and procedures, and pure decency determine–or should determine–the outcome of political struggles.

Yet all the insightful and beautiful words and inspiring videos seen and heard at this week’s Democratic national convention will not stop Donald Trump and his Republican collaborators from trying to steal the November elections or illegally seizing power between now and January 20, 2021.  If this sounds like fantasy, reflect on what they have already done.

Trump has already telegraphed his intentions, and tried out a number of the elements such a seizure of power would entail.

The Democrats are lost talking to themselves in a world of Reason.

Trump is operating in a world of Raw Power and Unreason.

Trump and his collaborators engage on a daily basis in the Nazi propaganda technique known as “the Big Lie”.

He has sent federal armed forces into Portland in a preview of what he could do in a raw struggle for power.  Those federal forces, each and every one of them, dutifully obeyed what seem to have been unconstitutional orders.

Trump has demonstrated how the federal courts cannot be counted on to halt unconstitutional actions in a timely manner.  Having learned from his mentor,  Roy Cohn, Trump has perfected the art of delay and tying legal cases up in the courts through endless appeals.  He now has a servile Attorney General and Justice Department to aid him and do his bidding.

At the Pentagon, he has appointed political loyalists to key positions. They can be counted on to try to block any military actions that might be taken to thwart an attempt by Trump and his Republican collaborators to take over the government by force.

He has a massive propaganda operation, led by Fox News but also backed up by One America News, and other right-wing news outlets and social media, which he uses daily to push out lies and misinformation.  He also has the backing of Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence agencies.

In the world of Raw Power, Trump seems to hold all the cards.

Except one.  The Power of Impeachment.

Democrats have been afraid to use this power fully against Trump.

Their impeachment of Trump on two narrow grounds related to the Ukraine failed in the Senate to secure a conviction and removal of Trump from office.  Quite predictably, in the Senate Trump was protected by his Republican collaborators, who willingly ignored the facts in violating their constitutional oaths of office.  The House Democrats either understood this would happen, or naively assumed that Reason and the facts would carry the day.

They didn’t.  Democrats need to learn from this experience.

Democrats shied away from efforts to impeach Trump for the broad range of his high crimes and misdemeanors, including the clear pattern of obstruction of justice laid out in the Mueller Report.

As Trump’s abuses of power have multiplied and grown in significance since his Senate acquittal in January 2020, we have heard nothing of preparations by House Democrats to use the threat of a new and second impeachment to constrain his actions.

This is the only tool in the world of Raw Power that the Democrats have.

They need to wake up from their illusions of normality,  of constitutional government and the rule of law, and to prepare to use this tool.  They should have teams of Democratic Representatives and lawyers putting together draft articles of impeachment. Today.

These articles of impeachment, updated as necessary, can then be immediately approved and sent to the Senate if Trump interferes with the election or resists a peaceful transfer of power on January 20, 2021.  Either of these developments could potentially produce the 20 Republican votes needed for his removal from office.

To keep Trump in line in the world of Raw Power, the House Democrats must credibly use the Threat of Impeachment.

The Threat of Impeachment is the only tool the Democrats have to constrain Trump.

They must use the tool. That means they must begin immediately to develop the threat, and communicate it credibly to Trump.

The Threat of Impeachment can be used as a weapon of deterrence.

But if the train leaves the tracks, they will have to use it–with 20 Republican Senators–to remove him from office.


Morgan Chalfant, “Trump says he would put down riots on election night ‘very quickly’,” The Hill, September 11, 2020 (11:57 AM EDT).

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.