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Will Wilkinson 🌐
The idea I keep hearing that impeachment with conviction is merely "symbolic" is ignorant and misunderstands how the politics of authority work.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
First, impeachment is a legal reality. It's a precondition for conviction, and puts it on the table.
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Timothy B. Lee May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
You mean without conviction.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
Second, and perhaps more importantly, effective authority is in part a function of perceived legitimacy. Trump understands this incredibly well, which is why he relentlessly undermines the perceived legitimacy of anyone who opposes him.
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James Surowiecki May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
So you think the Republicans' impeachment of Bill Clinton was somehow more than symbolic? What, exactly, did it accomplish in concrete terms?
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Keith E. Whittington May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
Coming to Lawfare momentarily
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
This is how Trump marshals authority -- by undermining the credibility of his opponents' claims to authority with the public. He does this in a ham-fisted way, yet it's effective, even if it's merely "symbolic."
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
Public attitudes toward those who claim political authority place real constraint on its exercise. That's why authoritarians need propaganda, and want to control information. It keeps the ultimate source of authority, popular opinion, behind them, and against their enemies.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
The House of Representatives *represents* the American people. Impeachment amounts to a vote of no confidence from the people. If public opinion is behind it, and impeachment isn't seen as mere partisan opportunism, this is incredibly damaging to POTUS's perceived legitimacy.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
And this, in turn, damages his effective authority. That's critical to bargaining power in standoffs between the legislative and executive branches, like the one we're having now.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
This has real political and legal teeth, regardless of the prospects of conviction. The important thing for the House, before launching impeachment, is pulling public sentiment to its side by drawing a contrast between sober standard procedure and hyper-partisan lawlessness.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
From Day One, Trump has been "symbolically" running down the legitimacy of congressional Democrats, casting them as un-American, vaguely treasonous partisans because demagogues grasp the public psychology of authority, even if they literally don't know what the rules are.
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Matt DeMonte May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
I think Pelosi is letting Trump walk into it with all his illegal tactics (ignoring subpoenas etc.) Then impeachment will seem necessary when it comes. The timing is tricky though.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
VERY SOPHISTICATED bien pensant sighs about impeachment without conviction being "merely symbolic" amount to advising unilateral disarmament in the public relations game of contested authority, and a gift to Trump, a genius of steamrolling his opponents with "mere" symbolism.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @mattdemonte
Yes.
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @kewhittington
Excellent!
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @JamesSurowiecki
But for Bill Clinton's impeachment, Hillary Clinton would be president. Pretty concrete.
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David Nir May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
What about the prospect that a failure to convict by the Senate would be seen as a ratification of Trump's actions?
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shlewis May 8
Replying to @willwilkinson
OUT!!!! With?
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Will Wilkinson 🌐 May 8
Replying to @DavidNir
That's why I think it's wise to condition impeachment on capturing the high ground in a PR war over responsible, conservative, "rule of law" constitutional oversight vs. scorched-earth, burn-it-all down constitution-shredding partisanship.
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