"In the bitter end," fumed a Wall Street Journal editorial the day after Donald Trump's impeachment trial concluded, "what has all of this accomplished? The House has defined impeachment down to a standard that will now make more impeachments likely."
Let's hope so.
Impeachment wasn't meant to be the extreme rarity it has been throughout American history. Like other legislative checks and balances — the power to override vetoes and to reject judicial nominees, for example — the power to impeach a president (or any federal official or judge) for what Alexander Hamilton called the "abuse or violation of some public trust" was expected to be used by Congress as needed. The framers of the Constitution knew that regular elections wouldn't suffice to protect the public from a bad president. That's why it was "indispensable," as James Madison told the delegates in Philadelphia, "that some provision should be made for defending the community against the incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the Chief Magistrate."
If that was true more than 200 years ago, when American presidents wielded far less power than they do today — when there were no nuclear missiles, no multitrillion-dollar federal budgets, no sweeping executive orders — it is even truer today.
Yet the idea long ago took hold that impeachment should almost never be resorted to . . . .