Christians should advocate for President Donald J. Trump’s conviction and removal from office by the Senate. While Trump has an excellent record of appointing conservative judges and advancing a prolife agenda, his criminal conduct endangers the Constitution. The Constitution is more important than the prolife cause because without the Constitution, prolife advocacy would be meaningless.
The fact that we live in a democratic republic is what enables us to turn our prolife convictions from private opinion into public advocacy. In other systems of government, the government does not care what its citizens think or believe. Only when the government is forced to take counsel from its citizens through elections, representation, and majoritarian rule do our opinions count.
Our democratic Constitution — adopted to “secure the blessings of liberty” for all Americans — is what guarantees that our voice matters. Without it, we can talk about the evils of abortion until we are blue in the face and it will never affect abortion policy one iota. The Constitution — with its guarantees of free speech, free assembly, the right to petition the government, regular elections, and the peaceful transfer of power — is the only thing that forces the government to listen to us.
Trump’s behavior is a threat to our Constitutional order. The facts behind his impeachment show that he abused a position of public trust for private gain, the definition of corruption and abuse of power. More worryingly, he refused to comply with Congress’s power to investigate his conduct, a fundamental breach of the checks and balances that is the bedrock of our Constitutional order.
One of the articles of impeachment drafted against President Richard Nixon in 1974 charged him with contempt of Congress because he refused to respond to Congressional subpoenas for documents related to his criminal behavior. Nixon withheld information, claimed executive privilege, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court unanimously rejected his claims, firmly establishing that the president is not above the law and is subject to the legal process.
The same charge has now been levied against Trump for the same behavior. Trump refused to comply with Congressional subpoenas and claimed the impeachment inquiry was illegitimate. Trump’s lawyers have literally argued in court that, while president, Trump should be immune from investigation or prosecution for any criminal conduct.
If Trump is acquitted by the Senate and his legal claims are vindicated, his acquittal essentially reverses the Supreme Court’s decision against Nixon. Trump’s acquittal (coupled with Clinton’s, in 1999) would mean that, over time, a future president can abuse his power, obstruct justice, commit perjury, profit from office, defy Congress, ignore subpoenas, seize Congress’ power of the purse, never reveal tax records, admit to sexual assault, violate campaign finance laws, intimidate witnesses, and disregard truth with impunity, firm in the knowledge that he faces no accountability, no check, no balance, no consequence, and no higher law.
Critics might say that I am blowing Trump’s misdeeds out of proportion, seeing the downfall of the republic in what amounts to a few errors of judgment. But such errors compound over time. This is what Abraham Lincoln warned about in his Lyceum Address of 1844. He warned that if law-breakers were allowed to violate the law, they would set an example that, over time, would undermine the American experiment in free government: “By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained.”
Trump’s acquittal would mean that future presidents will eventually be “absolutely unrestrained,” and become above the law. If the president is above the law, we do not live in a constitutional republic in which every citizen is guaranteed equal justice under law. It will mean that a public official has more rights and privileges than you or I, that the law does not apply to him, and that he can shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without consequence.
It would mean the Constitution will become a powerless, meaningless piece of paper that no longer governs the American government. The American experiment in free government would give way, more or less, to an elective monarchy.
If that is true, then our prolife cause is at an end. For the sake of our intellectual honesty, Christians should try this thought experiment: Would we trade the Constitution for a prolife monarch? Some might genuinely answer “yes” because of the depth of the evils of abortion. They would welcome the efficiency and firmness of a single monarchical declaration outlawing abortion once and for all. But those who are tempted to trade away the Constitution misunderstand monarchy.
History is replete with benevolent monarchs who governed with some semblance of enlightenment for a decade or so. The problem comes when the monarch dies and hands power to someone else. Without a Constitution to constrain monarchs, we have no way of guaranteeing that the next one will be prolife. Indeed, the next one might not like Christians at all. The next one might not even respect our religious liberty. That is why a Constitution which guarantees us the right to participate in the political process is, over the long run, far more valuable than any single prolife official.
We must defend our Constitution because precedent matters. What we do today shapes what the other side will do to us tomorrow. We have to play by the rules if we want them to respect the rules when they are in power. There is no way our side will stay in power forever. Someday, our political opponents will control the White House and both chambers of Congress. When they do, we will rue the day we traded away the Constitution’s guardrails.
Trump’s defenders claim that the other side has never been fair and cannot be trusted no matter what. That might be correct — but the other side’s duplicity doesn’t justify Trump’s criminality. As your grandmother always said, two wrongs don’t make a right. Both these things can be true at the same time: Democrats were hellbent on impeaching Trump from day one no matter what, and Trump eventually gave them the excuse they needed.
Lincoln warned that if the Constitution goes unenforced, “the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual.” At the same time, men of ambition will come to see the confines of the Constitution as a stifling restriction, not a safe harbor. Such men will not shrink “to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric,” of the Constitution, “which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope of the lovers of freedom throughout the world.”
Prophetically, Lincoln warned specifically against the kind of man who made his own fame, his own distinction, more important than the country itself. In Trump, Lincoln’s worst fears have come to pass. For the sake of the country, the Constitution, for equal justice under law, for the future of the prolife cause, Trump must be convicted and removed from office.
Paul D. Miller is a professor of the practice of international affairs at Georgetown University and a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Follow him on Twitter.