Getting Impeachment Right

Andrew_Johnson_impeachment_trial

The Impeachment Trial in the Senate of Andrew Johnson, Theodore Davis, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

In 2016, I mentioned to some friends that I feared with either candidate, that there was a good chance we might see an impeachment process. It appears that my fears were warranted. Having lived through the preparations for impeachment after Watergate that led to the resignation of Richard Nixon and the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, I was saddened, because I realized that no matter the outcome, in our present climate, it was going to get messy, and perhaps ugly.

I have no interest in discussing whether impeachment proceedings are warranted or not with this president. What concerns me at this point is that our elected officials in both houses of Congress need to cease to see themselves as members of political parties and understand their roles in upholding the Constitution, the rule of law, and separation of powers, and the public good. The more that both House and Senate members (and Justice Roberts, who will preside in the Senate if the House passes articles of impeachment) can see the president as neither of their own party or the opposition party but as a citizen holding high office who, at the time of writing, may be accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the better.

I realize that in our present climate, that seems practically impossible. Yet given that climate, it is all the more urgent that leaders of both parties determine how to go forward where they act as a separate branch of government, and not as partisans for or against the president. Right now, the role of the house is akin to a Grand Jury, examining evidence to determine if charges that must be tried are warranted. When it comes to a trial in the Senate, the Senators become jurors. I’ve been a juror on two trials, one a murder trial. I had to approach this as “innocent until proven guilty” (and if I could not, to disclose this), and to be willing to find a defendant guilty, if the charge was proven beyond reasonable (not all) doubt.

What our system asks of ordinary citizens is to serve the interests of justice with as much impartiality as humanly possible. Now we need to ask our elected officials to do the same. Many of those in the Senate are lawyers. They understand well these responsibilities. What seems to me crucial is that those of the Democrat party should ask themselves if they, on hearing all the evidence, would vote any differently were the President of their own party. For the Republicans, they should ask themselves if they would vote any differently were the President not a Republican. I’ve written asking such of my own elected representatives.

I think at this point the American people do not believe party members of either House capable of acting in this fashion. [I will acknowledge that eventually the House will designate “managers” who will prosecute the charges or articles of impeachment, and that the President will designate those who will present his defense. Those individuals obviously have to be zealous advocates in an impeachment trial.] Most expect this to play out along partisan lines in both houses, merely reinforcing and deepening the existing political divides.

What concerns me in all this is the weakening of Congress as a separate branch of government, acting for the public good while seeking to uphold the constitution. Leadership in both houses need to think about the long game of our republic’s future and not the upcoming election. If majority and minority leadership in each house fail to come together, the result will only be the diminishment of their own power and the expansion of presidential power. While little may be legislated, the trend of the last several presidencies of the use of executive orders will increase.

We feared an imperial presidency in the time of Richard Nixon. Increasingly there are those who clamor for one now, seeing the weakness and perpetual conflict within our legislative branch. We have had a system where the president is answerable to the legislature and the courts. How the leadership of both parties act in the coming months, regardless the outcome, will determine whether this balance will hold and whether they will enjoy the increased or diminished confidence of the American people.

It seems to me a perilous time. Those who are people of prayer ought devote themselves to this. And one hopes that those who represent us also recognize the time we are in, and rise to greatness rather than retreat to “politics as usual.” While we have survived past crises, that does not mean we will this one. All I can do is hope. And pray.

[I know it is very tempting to argue one side or the other of these issues online. I believe these are matters for our elected officials. Any partisan comments on this post, either on this blog or on social media, will be taken down without comment. Use the time you would spend writing engaging your elected representatives.]

6 thoughts on “Getting Impeachment Right

  1. Bob: Well stated, but the only problems I’ve had in “writing engaging your elected representatives” is that all I get is an automated e-mail response that doesn’t even refer to the particular subject that which I wrote about. I’ve talked to numerous staffers about this until “I’m blue in the face” and get no where. Very frustrating!

  2. Bob: “Only two U.S. presidents have been formally impeached by Congress—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—and no U.S. president has ever been removed from office through impeachment.
    In addition to Johnson and Clinton, only two other U.S. presidents have faced formal impeachment inquiries in the House of Representatives: Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Many other presidents have been threatened with impeachment by political foes without gaining any real traction in Congress.”
    Source: Dave Roos, “How Many US Presidents Have Faced Impeachment?” (21 OCT 2019; updated 1 NOV 2019), on History at https://www.history.com/news/how-many-presidents-impeached [accessed 7 NOV 2019].

    I cite that article to make the following point. Doing the math from the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 to Andrew Johnson’s impeachment was slightly less than 80 years. Another 106 years went before Nixon faced it. Therefore, in the first 186 years of our nation’s history only one impeachment took place. Counting Nixon’s impeachment inquiries we have now had an impeachment and 2 impeachment inquiries in the span of slightly over 45 years. My point: This historical impeachment timeline does not speak well for the modern history of our nation, and bodes ill for our future. Your concerns are very genuine and shared.

  3. Your concerns stated in this article are very well warranted. Every single day we seem to be inundated with opinions that are so politically partisan and so skewed to one’s own point of view without logic. And without common courtesy and respect shown for one another as citizens and neighbors. This prevalence is on display for us 24 seven by the elected Official who are supposed to be representing us locally and nationally, by the constitutionally protected United States press and by citizens on their social media pages, in their workplaces, and at family dinner tables. It seems to be undermining the very fabric of what it means to be a United States citizen.The ugliness and hatred is concerning and frightening .It is undermining patriotism. It seems we all need a brand new lesson on what it means to be a fellow citizen of our republic.

    • One thing it occurs to me is that many are doing what they think their “base” wants. I do think it is vital they hear from us that we want a different way of leading. Our representatives are political creatures, for better or worse. They need to know that there is a sizable body of us who want courtesy and respect, and for them to model it to the rest of the country. Thanks for writing!

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