• Michael McGowan

Three Steps Forward, One Giant Leap Back

What does impeachment tell us what we want from our elected leaders? We know the Constitution says removal of federal officers can be done when they commit treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors. Yet it is also a political process that was acknowledged by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #65. He warned it would become political because the chambers of Congress are political in nature. He admonished the Senate to conduct the trial as apolitical as possible.


What do we, as a country, expect from our president? We are coming upon the fourth presidential impeachment in United States history.


Andrew Johnson was impeached for removing one of his cabinet members. He did violate a law that stated the president could not remove a member of his cabinet without senatorial consent. The law stated the violation of such action was a "high misdemeanor". Johnson survived by one vote. The law he violated was eventually repealed and the Supreme Court indicated that it was likely unconstitutional anyway. From this first presidential impeachment we learned that we want our executive leader to be in control of his or her branch of government.


Just over 100 years later Richard Nixon had three articles of impeachment against him: obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Nixon was involved in the criminal conduct of spying on the Democratic Party. Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment could get to a full House vote. He likely would have been removed from office. From this second presidential impeachment we learned that we do not want our elected officials to be involved in behavior that benefits them solely.


Not even three decades later the country endures another impeachment of a president. The articles of impeachment against William Jefferson Clinton included the criminal behavior of perjury and obstruction of justice. However, Clinton wasn't removed from office mostly along party lines. We learned this was a political process and that despite criminal behavior we do not want our leaders removed for personal indiscretions in which led to the criminal behavior to cover it up.


And now, no less than 20 years later, we come upon the fourth presidential impeachment. What is a likely article of impeachment? I'd say abuse of power. Donald Trump used federal funding as a bargaining chip to investigate his political rival.


If the previous impeachments have taught us about what we want in a leader is that we want them to be in full control of their staff. We understand that their professional and private lives are separate. We don't want them to personally benefit at the detriment of the country.


Unfortunately, it appears that the Senate has not heeded the warning from Alexander Hamilton, as such many Senators, Republican and Democratic alike, have already decided their vote even before the House has voted to impeach the president.


What will this impeachment teach us? We don't mind if a president uses his office for personal gain. This will repeal the lessons from President Richard Nixon's impeachment.


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