The Fourth Impeachment

Andrew Johnson was impeached for matters related to what to do with the South after they were defeated in the American Civil War. I would like to know more about that. What I understand of it now is that it may have been a great Irony, in the sense that Johnson was a Democrat, appointed as a Republican’s VP, who had the intention of implementing that president’s policies after his assassination by a pro-Slavery assassin, but those policies went easier on the South because that is how Lincoln wanted to approach reconstruction, and the Republicans in Congress wanted to crush the South. But I’m sure I’m leaving out important details. Anyway, Andrew Johnson was impeached and nearly thrown out of office.

Later on, Richard Nixon was impeached because he and his minions carried out crimes that were kinda bad and then tried to cover them up, which led to the absurd modern day aphorism that “it’s not the crime, its the cover up,” implying that no matter how bad the crime is, the cover up is worse (wrong). Nixon was not thrown out of office, but rather, he left on his own.

Later on, Bill Clinton was impeached for his affair with a White House Aide. But other than anti-Clinton Republicans, most people, while not liking the affair thing, did not see this as worthy of impeachment, and recognized the Republican effort to impeach Clinton as a bald faced political move.

Now, we are faced with Trump. We don’t know where impeachment will go. It may be impossible until there is a Senate super majority, and that may not happen any time soon. Trump will have to be caught talking on the phone to Vladimir Putin, discussing their recent successful assassination of Bambi. But likely, that won’t do it either. Republicans put party over country every time. The only way Trump is going to leave office is feet first in the case he croaks on his own, or by being voted out of office, and the latter is not likely to happen because, face it, Trump represents American values in he (slim) minority, but that minority rules due to voter suppression and Russian-powered ignorance.

Whatever. The point is, impeachment is on the table, and there is a new book out that helps us understand the earlier impeachments, and I recommend it. Impeachment: An American History by Jon Meacham, Peter Baker, Tim Naftali, and Jefrey Engel.

Four experts on the American presidency examine the three times impeachment has been invoked—against Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton—and explain what it means today.

Impeachment is a double-edged sword. Though it was designed to check tyrants, Thomas Jefferson also called impeachment “the most formidable weapon for the purpose of a dominant faction that was ever contrived.” On the one hand, it nullifies the will of voters, the basic foundation of all representative democracies. On the other, its absence from the Constitution would leave the country vulnerable to despotic leadership. It is rarely used, and with good reason.

Only three times has a president’s conduct led to such political disarray as to warrant his potential removal from office, transforming a political crisis into a constitutional one. None has yet succeeded. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for failing to kowtow to congressional leaders—and, in a large sense, for failing to be Abraham Lincoln—yet survived his Senate trial. Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against him for lying, obstructing justice, and employing his executive power for personal and political gain. Bill Clinton had an affair with a White House intern, but in 1999 he faced trial in the Senate less for that prurient act than for lying under oath about it.

In the first book to consider these three presidents alone—and the one thing they have in common—Jeffrey A. Engel, Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, and Peter Baker explain that the basis and process of impeachment is more political than legal. The Constitution states that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” leaving room for historical precedent and the temperament of the time to weigh heavily on each case. This book reveals the complicated motives behind each impeachment—never entirely limited to the question of a president’s guilt—and the risks to all sides. Each case depended on factors beyond the president’s behavior: his relationship with Congress, the polarization of the moment, and the power and resilience of the office itself. This is a realist view of impeachment that looks to history for clues about its potential use in the future.

Read this book as a distraction from the current intense and rather explosive (nearly explosive?) political climate. A little history to distrat you from the future…

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