Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Articles of Impeachment

The House of Representatives has moved closer this week to carrying out its constitutional function to adopt Articles of Impeachment against President Trump. Two Articles have been proposed for the Judiciary Committee to send to the full House - the first. on the President's abuse of the power of his office and the second on his obstructing Congress in its investigation of his conduct regarding Ukraine. For the complete text of the two articles, with commentary by Peter Baker of the NY Times, go to 

Based on the already known public evidence, it would be hard to challenge the conclusion that the President "by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law." Perhaps more than any previous president - more than Johnson, more than Nixon, and certainly more than Clinton - Trump has acted in a manner that has warranted this extreme sanction impeachment, although given the almost certainty of acquittal in the Senate it is the impeachment itself which will likely represent the full extent of the sanction - a far cry from the full constitutional sanction of "removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States."

The reality remains, moreover, that every previous presidential impeachment (or attempted impeachment in Nixon's case) may well have done as much or more harm than good, and that such a sorry consequence could likely be our outcome once again.

Andrew Johnson's was the most obvious example. A truly terrible president who opposed Congress's program of real Reconstruction, Johnson definitely deserved to be impeached and removed - although not for violating the (unconstitutional) Tenure of Office Act. The result of his famous acquittal - by one "profile in courage" vote - made Johnson an object of subsequent sympathy. In the long run this may have further helped the Confederate, anti-Reconstruction cause, and delayed African-American civil rights for another century. It also discredited the impeachment process, which made it that much harder to resurrect it against Nixon in the 1970s.

The Nixon impeachment (and the entire Watergate imbroglio of which it was a part) helped foster and nourish out ultra-adversarial political and journalistic culture, focused on personality and scandal - a high price to pay in the long-term for the short-term goal of getting Nixon out of office. The Clinton impeachment - an utterly unjustified partisan exercise - set the precedent that impeachment is one more weapon for a political party to use when it controls the House and the President is of the opposite party. 

None of this has been good for the country. So, if indeed Trump does deserve to be impeached, his almost certain acquittal in the Senate could conceivably strengthen his political position among his partisan supporters, while discrediting the constitutional process even further and certainly reinforcing the already destructive divisions in our society, in which (unlike with Nixon the 1970s) Americans are much less mutually persuadable by factual evidence and rational argument. 

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