Impeachment as a Moral Referendum


While I have been heartened to see articles in the  New York Times  and elsewhere about religious leaders issuing statements against Trump’s executive orders, the continued barrage of blows from the new administration has made the tactical state of the “resistance” seem like handwringing in the face of a pugilist. It begs the question of how to escalate the response of faith communities to a level of greater efficacy. The high levels of opposition in the general public to the current administration has opened up conversations about courses of action that – with the right organizing – could potentially shift from “totally-hard-to-imagine” to “maybe possible” to “very-much-doable.” Among those courses of action, impeachment is the one that is currently building the public sentiment necessary to move along this continuum of potentiality.
Before beginning a discussion of impeachment, however, consider another course of action that has been discussed. The inspiring work stoppage by taxi drivers at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in response to Trump’s immigration ban immediately evokes the potential power of workers. Could workers and their faith allies organize on a larger scale to inflict an economic cost that damages the corporate underpinnings of the Trump administration? Jonathan Rosenblum’s  analysis of unions in the Trump era  suggests that the current state of many unions is not ready for this at the moment. Add to this the unlikelihood of those of us outside of unions participating in a general strike anytime soon.
Impeachment could very well be a more immediate and effective vehicle of escalation. Currently,  40% of registered voters  support Trump’s impeachment. As early as January 27th, it was reported that already 200,000 had joined a campaign launched by Moreover, there is a  lawsuit against Trump for receiving “emoluments” from foreign officials  that points to a legal foundation for impeachment. Of course, deeper conversation about the possibility for impeachment immediately brings up the question of whether a Republican-controlled Congress would ever impeach and convict Trump. Moreover, one must ask if a Pence administration would be preferable.
These issues do indeed demonstrate how hard it is to exit the land of “totally-hard-to-imagine.” For me, however, a campaign for impeachment becomes very attractive if it is propelled by a movement in the streets that demands accountability across the board: from the Trump-Pence Administration to all of Congress. Such a movement would not be driven by the merits of narrow legal arguments but by a diversity of causes. It would thus turn impeachment into a broad moral referendum on numerous actions and policies from the current administration. It would further turn impeachment, and the grievances accompanying it, into the rallying cry for determining who gets elected or re-elected to Congress in 2018.
As my colleague Edie Rasell points out, while the current legal grounds for impeachment are just a small part of all that is objectionable, these legal grounds could be akin to taking down a mob boss for tax evasion. The mob boss is guilty of much worse, but ultimately you go with the means available. In this way, impeachment becomes an offensive tactic for all those who have decided enough is enough, regardless of the particular moral outrage that animates them. In my own field of environmental justice, there is no shortage of reasons to be motivated.
In these early days of the Trump administration, impeachment may seem like a fringe, premature idea to some, but the polls suggest that I am not alone in gravitating toward it, and when it comes to injustice, it is never too early to act. For faith communities, it should be noted that advocating for impeachment does not jeopardize one’s 501(c)(3) status, because it does not pertain to the prohibition on political campaign intervention. The real question for faith communities is not one of legal compliance but of courage in moral leadership.
Impeachment as a moral referendum could ultimately be the beginning of a revolution that attacks the multiple causes of our nation’s descent into a pit made by many shovels. As the proliferation of marches, demonstrations, and rallies continues in response to outrage after outrage, impeachment could well be the unifying theme that advances to the fore.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore
The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt coauthored Sounding the Trumpet: How Churches Can Answer God’s Call to Justice with the Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr. Berndt can be found on Twitter as @The_Green_Rev.

6 thoughts on “Impeachment as a Moral Referendum

  1. Thanks for your insightful article, and I agree that impeachment could be a powerful moral referendum which promises the potential of reigning in the out-of-control politics of so many in Congress. Moral, ethical, and legal means together ought to get this chaotic presidency terminated.

  2. Mr. Berndt states the case very well; the prospect of just getting Donald Trump out of there has obvious appeal. But the more deeply I think about it the more mixed my feelings become.
    The problem is not Donald Trump; it is the state of awareness of the American electorate that put him there, whether by voting for him or by simply not voting (which is to vote for whoever is chosen by those who did vote). Trump is the figurehead for this ignorance; he is its most spectacular example, on the strength of which he was selected. As such, he plays a vital role in demonstrating how dangerous this ignorance can be and has become, spraying vicious falsehoods about (far about, with modern technology) with utter abandon and busily setting out to dismantle virtually every good program or regulation our government has managed to put in place over the last half century; indeed, since the Constitution was signed. Together with Kellyanne Conway, he is the flashing red light that has alarmed so many of us; naturally we want to get rid of him.
    But if we remove him (and his public spokespeople Conway and Spicer) we no longer have that flashing red light; we will be left with All…The…Rest. But without that unignorable warning light right in our face. And the depredations will continue; Pence will be so much smoother but only marginally less dangerous. And there will still be the monolithic lineup, from the Cabinet (for almost every one of which positions worse people could scarcely be imagined), to the Advisors (think Bannon; simply Satanic), then a Congress dominated by its worst elements (think McConnell and Ryan), on through now Republican dominated State Houses and Governors throughout the nation, with the whole lineup from top to bottom of government aligned with the same ignorant and vicious intent.
    This is what we have to face and somehow turn around. If we cut off the biggest, thus most alarming, head of the hydra, we’ll still have to deal with the rest. Are we ready to do that? Without the Head; the most attention-getting aspect of the beast, will we pay enough attention, see the nature and extent of the problem, and deal with it effectively?
    Of course I too want Donald Trump out of there, but I wonder… I suspect that the way we will have to deal with this catastrophe is by replacing all three branches of our government with people who actually represent the interests of the nation, the human race, and the planet, and that the only way we can do that will be through massive, creative, unremitting civil disobedience combined with an equally massive presence at the ballot box.

    • Very insightful and important points, though so very difficult for people to face and act on yet. Our minds run to hide in bubbles of illusion and beliefs about reality rather than facing raw reality and the utter complexity of it which makes so much not so crystal clear much of the time.
      In most of history, it seems it took reaching the very bottom of the barrel for masses to turn out and risk all for radical change……….has this moment arrived??……….we probably will know in the near future……

  3. Unfortunately It’s not that easy to impeach Trump. It take a great deal of GOP Senators to support impeachment. Perhaps that would happen but only after they’ve gotten way they want from the president.

  4. Trump is our president according to the constitution… Don’t like the constitution… amend it.
    Respect the rule of law… don’t like it change it. Want anarchy and chaos…Go fer it. be my guest. But remember be willing to live with the consequences.
    As a Christian, the reverends tone hints of social justice… and the concept that I cannot be saved until everybody is saved. The Bible can be interpreted this way but to most of us we interpret it addressing individual salvation… not collective. Collective salvation is apostasy in favor of despotism, poverty and misery. But if that is what you want for all the people… go fer it.
    Want anarchy and chaos…Go fer it. be my guest. But remember be willing to live with the consequences to yourself… as well as to all those around you.
    My last comment: The mindset today of the majority of Americans is mass hysteria and hyperbole… The majority have been taken hostage in an unreal virtual reality… Open your eyes… See REALITY. When the masses have been enslaved by man’s primitive emotional mind… blind to cognitive thinking and reason… than the FUTURE IS BLEAK… If one wants to miserable… one will be miserable… It one wants to be ecstatic with the simple joys of daily life… one will be happy… It’s all attitude, self induces within our own minds. That, my friends is the grave epidemic contagion that has infected the world. Last point… I thought the purpose of Tikum was to have frank and respectful discussions and respect for different opinions.
    Somewhere along the reverend’s mission, I wonder if he took the wrong path, my opinion, and he is in my prayers. Man can’t forgive until he asks G’d and others to forgive him first… Look into the deep recesses of you mind… rlh 2.11.17

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