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Credit: Max Cohen

Billionaire political activist Tom Steyer visited Penn this past Saturday, speaking to Penn Democrats about his efforts to impeach President Donald Trump, his hopes for the midterm elections, and the importance of grassroots political participation. 

Steyer, a former hedge fund manager turned Democratic donor, rose to prominence after embarking in October on a campaign to impeach President Trump. In the ensuing months, a petition calling for Trump’s impeachment has garnered over 4.7 million signatures.

The activist is also the founder of NextGen America, an organization that Penn Dems has worked with in the past that seeks to promote progressive and environmentalist values. 

Student leaders from Penn and other Philadelphia universities began the event by sharing their motivations for seeking Trump’s impeachment, which ranged from anger after the 2016 election to desire for immigration reform.

Tom Steyer

Steyer then took the stage and gave insights into his motivations for his “Need To Impeach” campaign and his hopes for the next generation of political activists.

“Impeachment is the biggest issue in the United States of America,” Steyer said. “Because the president impacts every single issue that’s in front of us, and his attitudes and his behavior implicates every single thing in Congress and every single thing in the executive branch.”

According to Steyer, Trump has “clearly” met the criteria for impeachment, citing the ongoing Russia-collusion investigation and Trump’s response. For Steyer, Trump’s reaction was self-serving, as the President reacted by denying collusion rather than expressing anger at the Russian infringement on American democracy. 

“This issue is really about the underlying value system we will choose. 2018 is a straightforward right-or-wrong issue on our value system, and it really comes down to whether will we value the rights and dignities of every American,” Steyer said. “[Trump] is actually very dangerous for the American people and for our democracy."

If Congress impeaches Trump, it would mark a watershed moment in American politics, Steyer said. 

“If we can do it, that’s a revolution in the way Americans relate to their democracy," Steyer said. “It’s quite clear this administration is anti-democratic, with a small ‘d.’”

Steyer also talked about the significance of the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. He singled out the importance of political activism among millenials, who he said were the most progressive and diverse generation in America.

Yet Steyer expressed his dismay that the age group voted at far lower rates than older Americans.

“If your generation decides to buy into our democracy and participate the way other generations do, you’ll change our country and you’ll change the world,” Steyer said. “If you guys are waiting for the adults in the room to step up, all I can say is take a look at what those kids in Florida are saying.”

Steyer prompted those in attendance to sign the “Need To Impeach” petition, share it with their friends and family, and to call their representatives to urge them to support the impeachment process.

Yet Steyer’s campaign has sparked controversy among the Democratic leadership, most notably with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. According to a November article in Politico, Pelosi was reportedly “peeved” with Steyer’s campaign and saw it as a distraction to the Democrats’ national agenda.

Penn Dems President and Wharton sophomore Dylan Milligan acknowledged that Steyer’s focus on impeachment was not a view universally shared by the party, but said the event was beneficial.

“It’s good to hear the perspective of people who say ‘impeachment is the number one priority,’” Milligan said. “Tom Steyer is a very compelling individual who has a very interesting perspective with regards to the administration.”

Penn Dems member and College freshman Bruce Eskesen said he found the event interesting, but expressed doubt over the specifics of the plan and whether it would benefit the country. 

“I think it’ll just further divide us,” Eskesen said.

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