To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, by Laurence H. Tribe and Joshua Matz

Nine stars

In a political era where ‘impeachment’ has become a buzzword, Laurence H. Tribe and Joshua Matz offer a comprehensive book on the topic. Their exploration is firmly rooted in the academic aspects of the topic without drowning the reader in too much minutiae. The discussion commences with the emergence of impeachment in the US Constitution, examining how the Founding Fathers debated and decided to include the ability to remove senior federal officials for certain reasons, though the list was neither specific nor exhaustive. The Founders struggled with impeachment, wanting to ensure the ability to remove the aforementioned officials with not impossible, but also wishing it to be a last-ditch effort, due to its severity. Thereafter, a discussion ensues about how to define the list of reasons acceptable for impeachment, including treason, bribery, and ‘other High Crimes and Misdemeanours’. That last has long been a confusing and open-ended addition to the list, one which Tribe and Matz refuse to specify. With a foundation in place, the book moves on to discuss the actors in the process, as well as a loose discussion of how impeachment would play out, basing some of the discussion on the two actual impeachment trials that have taken place, as well as the start of the middle experience (Nixon), which failed to transpire when the sitting president resigned. Tribe and Matz offer wonderful detail here, including some of the pomp and circumstance, while peppering their discussions with documents from the congressional record. As the attentive reader will know, both impeachment trials failed when the Senate failed to meet the two-thirds threshold for both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. There is an ongoing theme throughout the tome that partisan attacks will rarely create a conductive situation to impeach a president, though some would feel this is a wonderful means to fuel hatred or help begin an electoral campaign in the opposite direction. The latter portion of the book looks at impeachment as a useful political tool to ward off excessive abuses of power, as well as how the ‘I’ word has become a regular part of political discussions over the past two decades. As there has never been a successful impeachment in the United States, the authors cannot substantiate how its fallout might flavour the political horizon, though they posit some of the horrors that could occur, should a POTUS refuse to cede power. This is a great concern in an era where impeachment is being discussed with more vigour each passing day. While the sentiment may be there to bring forth Articles of Impeachment and hope for a successful outcome in the Senate—which I feel is no certainty—Tribe and Matz caution that impeachment should not be a knee-jerk reaction. There are other means of punishing a POTUS who strays outside of the permissible limits of the office. Before pulling out the weapon, one must survey the potential damage and how this could irreparably harm the Republic.

Looking to the present, Tribe and Matz wonder about how the current Trump Administration might fit into the rubrics they have laid out. While there is a great deal of fodder that comes up in this portion of the book, the authors are quick to explain that there is no rush to judgment when it comes to removal. Exploring presidential censure as an option comes to mind, which would still permit COngress to offer a slap on the wrist without the excessively dramatic fallout of impeachment. Of great interest to those who love constitutional discussions, the authors explore use of the 25th Amendment (replacement of a vacated presidential office and temporary incapacity of the POTUS). Tribe and Matz deliver a detailed discussion of the rules laid out in the amendment, as well as how it could be accomplished in a current situation, though they counsel against its use, for it is by no means a way to remove a sitting president through ‘backdoor antics’. So intriguing to look at the possibilities in a vacuum. I cannot say enough about this piece, which has helped educate me on so many aspects of the impeachment process in the United States. Highly recommended for those who enjoy political discussions about these matters, as well as the reader who likes analyzing the US Constitution through history and modern application.

There will be some who feel this is surely a book about how to bring about the downfall of the current American Administration. While Tribe and Matz admit that they are not fans of Trump—going so far as to explaining that they have active cases against him—their analysis of impeachment and use of modern examples does not openly argue in favour of a Trump impeachment. They allow the reader to draw their own conclusions. There is much to be said on the topic, which they do effectively by mixing laws, history, and outsider interpretation to present a well-rounded and thorough exploration of this thorniest of topics. Broken into six comprehensive chapters, the authors take their time and build a better understanding for each angle of impeachment, so the reader is not making an ignorant choice for themselves. Filled with many substantial arguments to help provide much more than a primer could on the topic. Tribe and Matz also issue dire warnings about getting pulled into the middle of a partisan swamp, which could lead to significant blowback and, as some have cited, a potential Civil War. While this all seems a little far-fetched, nothing really surprises me any longer. Politics has always been an odd beast!

Kudos, Messrs. Tribe and Matz, for such a wonderful piece. I feel much better educated and wait to see what other political permutations await between now and the next presidential election in 2020.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: