Impeachment as a Moral Referendum

Impeachment as a Moral Referendum

February 07, 2017
Written by Brooks Berndt
Trump-photo-by-Gage-Skidmore.jpeg
Photo: Gage Skidmore

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 hand wringing 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 ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org. 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. 


The Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt is the Minister for Environmental Justice for the United Church of Christ. He can be found on Twitter as The_Green_Rev.

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Contact Info

Brooks Berndt
Minister for Environmental Justice
700 Prospect Ave
Cleveland, OH 44135
216-736-3722
berndtb@ucc.org