- - Monday, October 14, 2019

Recently, House Democrats announced an impeachment inquiry into President Trump over “claims that Mr. Trump held back aid to Ukraine in the hope its leader would investigate Joe Biden. …” Predictably, social media lit up immediately with #TrumpImpeachment and #ImpeachTrumpNow trending all over the United States. The usual suspects in the #NeverTrump conservative political class joined the deafening chorus of progressive pundits in their long-standing calls for formal articles of impeachment and Mr. Trump’s resignation. 

Somewhat surprising, however, has been witnessing many prominent libertarians join these ranks in making knee-jerk calls for impeachment. Unfortunately, these political observers don’t seem to realize that removing Mr. Trump from office would solve none of the problems associated with his alleged abuses of power. The object of their ire should not be Mr.  Trump the man but the office of the presidency — and especially the permanent political class and establishment media (hereinafter “the establishment”) who whitewash and enable true presidential atrocities.

This is nothing new for libertarians. Indeed, the “imperial presidency” has been a libertarian bugaboo for decades, and many commentators have written eloquently on the dire need to limit the unilateral powers of America’s executive branch. Nearly all presidents since 1900 have expanded the scope of executive power well outside the strictures of Article 2 of the Constitution. 

Henry Kissinger once joked, “The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer” — a joke that betrays the brazen callousness with which people in the establishment view supposed legal limits on their actions. Additionally, the last four presidents before Mr. Trump all initiated foreign incursions and clandestine operations that have transformed much of the Middle East into a hellscape. Many of these operations were blatantly illegal — e.g. providing direct military aid and comfort to America’s enemies, which is particularly damning since this act fits the exact legal definition of treason.

Speaking of which, Bill Weld recently accused Mr. Trump of committing treason in this Ukrainian fiasco. If this phone call is enough for a treason charge against Mr. Trump, surely there is an open-and-shut case for indicting the entire foreign policy team of the Obama administration — including President Obama himself — for treasonously providing direct aid and comfort to al Qaeda to overthrow Bashar Assad in Syria. Instead, Mr. Weld heaped praise on Mr. Obama’s administration, saying he was “statesman-like” while ignoring the unspeakable horrors that occurred as a result of Mr. Obama’s direct orders. 

This flippant attitude has been the long-standing demeanor from much of the establishment toward atrocities that span administrations of both parties. As the Joker says in “The Dark Knight,” “Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying!” Indeed, the establishment press only ever seems to give Mr. Trump slack when he bombs countries unconstitutionally — that “pesky Congress” be damned.

The establishment’s constant whitewashing of presidential atrocities brings me back to the perplexing reaction among libertarians cheering for Mr. Trump’s impeachment. A pillar of modern libertarianism has been opposing never-ending foreign interventions. However, none of the articles of Mr. Trump’s impeachment will include, for example, a single word about his support for Saudi Arabia’s horrific war in Yemen. Instead, the Democrats and #NeverTrump Republicans hell-bent on removing Mr. Trump intend to replace him with someone who won’t upset “the plan.” While Mr. Trump’s alleged crimes in the Ukraine fiasco are unacceptable to the establishment, fomenting foreign coups appear to be A-OK. Why should libertarians cheer for Mr. Trump’s replacement with someone cut from an interventionist cloth?

Libertarians jumping on the impeachment train seem to be forgetting a basic tenet of economics: There are no “solutions” — only tradeoffs. What, therefore, are the realistic alternatives to Mr. Trump? Legally speaking, after Mr. Trump’s removal, Mike Pence would be next, who was an establishment animal before he became Mr. Trump’s VP. Thus far, no one has made a compelling case for why a President Pence would be desirable over a President Trump from a pro-liberty perspective.

None of the Democratic candidates with a real shot at winning would be a net improvement over Mr. Trump on either the domestic or foreign policy fronts — as Mr. Obama has shown, leftist candidates inevitably abandon their anti-war messages and neuter opposition from a left-wing anti-war movement. These libertarians are committing a Nirvana fallacy in wishing for someone better than Mr. Trump rather than evaluating the actual alternatives.

The establishment plays a key role in expanding the power of the president and should be as much a target of libertarian anger as the president himself. Libertarians must realize that they cannot achieve their laudable goal of reducing presidential power unless the establishment first loses its influence over that power. Replacing Mr. Trump with an establishment sycophant won’t advance that goal. 

Despite all his shortcomings, Mr. Trump is the best weapon against the establishment given present alternatives; therefore, the liberty movement would be poorly served if libertarians took the bait in this latest impeachment scheme.

• Nick Cooper is a Mises Institute research fellow at George Mason University.

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