There is a different and better case to be made for the impeachment of President Trump than what we have seen so far.
The current charges against Trump raised by the Democrats–collusion with foreign governments to subvert American elections, obstruction of justice, emoluments, tax evasion, etc.–are serious enough, if proven.
But there’s a far worse charge to be laid at his feet: climate change denial as a crime against humanity. And no even Trump’s denying it.
Climate change denial, as the Wikipedia tells us, is “denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change, including the extent to which it is caused by humans, its impacts on nature and human society, or the potential of adaptation to global warming by human actions.”
Not only has Trump denied any human role in climate change; he has also purposely and systematically obstructed attempts to remedy its consequences. In the face of overwhelming evidence that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels are accelerating global warming, and putting millions of people at risk for property and life, the Trump administration has insisted on promoting fossil fuel energy at the expense of renewables.
Depriving people of a viable future–which is what Trump’s anti-climate policies amount to–would seem to quality, by any measure, as a crime against humanity. His policies, unlike any of the other impeachment accusations he currently faces, pose an existential threat to humanity. This is precisely what youth activist Greta Thunberg and many others have been trying to point out.
Crimes against humanity were first articulated at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, where they were broadly defined as systematic, harmful actions taken by organized forces against a general population. These include, it is important to note, not only the atrocities we usually think of (genocide, etc.), but other high crimes such as political repression, racial discrimination, and religious persecution.
The pursuit of crimes against humanity needs more support than current international institutions seem able to provide. Their perpetrators too often escape arrest and trial. By contrast, the very act of filing articles of impeachment citing climate change denial as a crime against humanity would greatly help to substantiate it as the serious crime it appears to be.
A Congressional impeachment in the United States on the basis of climate change denial would establish, in one decisive step, if successful, a constitutionally sanctioned precedent applicable to all federal officials in the United States. It would also give a much-needed push towards accelerating the shift in national energy policy from fossil fuels to renewables. Not least, it would be an example to the world.
Impeaching Trump as a climate change denier would apply the constitutional power of impeachment to the reconstruction of social and environmental justice, including corresponding changes in public policy. It would mean that the most democratic organ of the federal government, the House of Representatives, would use an important, legitimate tool of governance–impeachment–to defend the public interest.
Impeachment is a political and constitutional, not a legal, process. All it takes is for 218 members of the House of Representatives to file articles of impeachment against any federal official for any reason that they can agree to call a crime. Conviction and removal from office require the assent of two-thirds of the Senate.
The only punishment constitutionally allowed, removal from office, is sufficient for the purposes of good government. Other penalties for such crimes, if any, would have to be separately adjudicated through the legal system.
The Founders saw impeachment as a last resort, to be used only when other constitutional mechanisms of government no longer function to secure justice. We have arguably reached that point on climate change issues. And just as Trump constitutionally won office losing the popular vote while gaining a majority in the electoral college, just so Trump can constitutionally be impeached, even on a partisan vote, by the House. Call it following a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
But the Senate will never convict him, we are told. Fine, let them take on the onus of defending a climate change denier. Republicans have been concerned to put Democrats on the record regarding impeachment. Democrats ought to be equally concerned to put Republicans on the record regarding climate change. It’s time to hold people accountable.