A Sober Moment in Our History: The Impeachment of a President

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Republicans have charged that Democrats have intended to impeach the president from the moment he was sworn in. They forget that they intended to do that before the 2016 election if Hillary Clinton were elected. Republicans continue to argue process, and that Democrats have passed no bills. Never mind that many (in the hundreds) seat on Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.

However, they have a very small point. Some Democrats have wanted to impeach the president from early on in his presidency. However, they are forgetting the parallel to Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached. There were several attempts to impeach the president, and he was finally impeached after legislation was passed. You could argue that the law was designed to entrap a president that his opponents did not like. After he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Congress finally got him impeached. It was the third attempt. He was not convicted in the Senate, and his party did not choose him to run again.

The parallels in the intent end here, however. Nor was the country less divided back then. In fact, it was even more divided, since it had just emerged from a civil war that almost tore the country asunder.

Like Johnson, President Donald Trump argues he is the greatest victim in the history of the Republic. Johnson went so far as to argue that none sacrificed as much as he did to preserve the Union. He forgot his predecessor (Abraham Lincoln) died for the Union since he was murdered.

Trump’s defenders though are doing great damage to the nation. They are pushing forth conspiracy theories, even at this late hour. These involve the intent of a coup, which means the constitutional remedy is somehow a deep state coup. The president is a victim in this theory, and right now we are facing a coup. They forget, a coup involves troops in the streets, and usually, it ends in nasty ways for the president.

It gets worst. The president sent a letter to the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on the eve of impeachment. It is an airing of grievances, that starts with the idea that the House does not have a right to impeach. It is the sole responsibility of the House to impeach.

The letter states in the beginning:

By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy. You dare to invoke the Founding Fathers in pursuit of this election-nullification scheme — yet your spiteful actions display unfettered contempt for America’s founding and your egregious conduct threatens to destroy that which our Founders pledged their very lives to build.

This is astounding, as the president puts in White House letterhead exactly one of the arguments that his defenders keep repeating today. They are calling it a “sham process,” and a “coup.”

This part of the letter is alarming, for its authoritarian tones:

You are turning a policy disagreement between two branches of government into an impeachable offense — it is no more legitimate than the Executive Branch charging members of Congress with crimes for the lawful exercise of legislative power.

Is the president threatening to arrest those who have exercised their legislative duties? Are we moving towards an elected dictator? Are we moving towards a president for life? This is exactly what the founders feared. Somebody who is so full of himself that he believes he is above the law? This is extremely dangerous. His supporters have followed the same talking points and there are feigned calls for violence as well.

The other talking point, that both Trump and his defenders in Congress are using is that this is overturning the election. Worst it is an attack on the separation of powers. Never mind that the refusal of the president to provide documents and witnesses under subpoena to do exactly this. He was also invited to participate in the judiciary, and the letter sent by his lawyer partially reads like this.

Your inquiry is constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process. In the history of our Nation, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the President without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutionalstep. Here, Houseleadership claims to have initiated the gravest inter-branch conflict contemplated under our Constitution by means of nothing more than a press conference at which the Speaker of the House simply announced an “official impeachment inquiry.” Your contrived process is unprecedented in the history of the Nation, and lacks the necessary authorization for a valid impeachment proceeding.

This was a direct attack on the process, which has been a constant talking point. The president complains that he was not given an opportunity to participate in the process. Yet, the letter from Pat Cipollone to Congress, dated Oct 8, 2019, is contrary to this claim.

This idea that the impeachment is invalid is bizarre, and it is long-standing. They are denying that there is a right, even a duty, to impeach a rogue executive. it is going to be up to the Senate to decide if the charges have any validity in a trial. However, we already know what the Senate will do. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not intend to run a trial. Mind you, the Constitution has no rules how this goes, beyond an oath. What he will do, and he told this on Fox TV (which is functioning as state media at this point) that he will do all he can to run this though like shit through a goose.

Republicans complain there were no witnesses for the president, yet the White House prevented all his people from testifying. They also blocked all document production and refused all subpoenas. He also refused to participate in any way, after the White House was invited to do so. Yet, at the trial, where witnesses would also be appropriate, the Foreman of the Jury has said he wants no witnesses. If you think this is strange, you should.

Now, let me tell you something about democracy. It is a fragile thing. It is not something that will survive in spite of all attacks. What the president, and his party, are doing, is an attack on democracy itself. We are watching the emergence of an authoritarian state, where the president can do as he will.

What Democrats are doing is reaffirm the role of the House in this government. They are trying to put guard rails on a president who believes he can do whatever he wants. It is not a coup, nor overturning an election. It is a Constitutional act.

The president will be impeached today. It is not a minor thing. In fact, this is a major step in our history. The president will be impeached, and he will continue to air his grievances on Twitter.

The president will be impeached, and this is a sober moment in our history. It is also a fork on the road. We also know the Senate will not convict. No president has been convicted in the history of this republic. But three presidents have been impeached. A fourth one resigned before the process led to this moment, and left the White House in disgrace.

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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