Threats to the Republic: The Clinton and Trump Impeachments
There are at least two problems with the Trump impeachment, as there were with the Clinton impeachment as well.
First, the Clinton impeachment was not a genuine attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office, a fact that is I suspect true of the Trump impeachment as well. Why would the Republicans have wanted to remove Clinton from office more than halfway through his term – meaning Al Gore could have served two full terms if he had been elected in 2000 – and prior to the 2000 presidential election for “offenses” that hardly endangered much more than Clinton’s marriage? Clinton was guilty of bad behavior and of trying to cover it up, but as majorities of the people repeatedly opined, the Republican attempt was merely a manifestation of partisan or party electoral politics. The same is true of the Democratic attempt to impeach and remove Trump from office. Except among those blinded by “Trump hysteria” or those willing to play “smoke and mirror politics,” there is no good or adequate reason for removing Trump from office, especially now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives and given the anti-Trump animus evident in the mainstream media.
Secondly – and more importantly – both of these impeachment attempts trivialize – and hence marginalize – that process, which has consequences for our republican scheme of government. The impeachment process was created in order to provide a means, within constitutional processes, to hold presidents accountable and to remove and ban them from office should that seem necessary. Monarchs could not be held accountable or be removed by any ordinary process. Removal required revolution and/or regicide. But because the men who drafted the Constitution knew they were creating a powerful and, hence, a dangerous office, one with some monarchical attributes, they wanted a means – without involving revolution or assassination – of holding presidents accountable and removing and banning them from office. That is, our founders knew that the presidency as created was an office whose misuse or abuse could undermine the republican form of government created by the Constitution because presidents had the means to aggrandize themselves and their office, e.g., through abuse of the commander in chief powers and/or the pardoning power.
In other words, the impeachment process was adopted to deal with what was once called an “imperial presidency” and, more recently, a “unitary executive.” But there is little or nothing in either the Clinton or the Trump impeachment proceedings that reflect such concerns. That is, neither Clinton nor Trump has been charged with seeking to establish an “imperial” or a “unitary” presidency. Rather, the focus was and is on allegedly bad or illegal behavior, but not behavior that rises to the level of having grave political consequences that would, if unchecked, undermine the Constitution’s republican scheme – or what’s left of it.
We have however witnessed such grave actions, e.g., when Nixon claimed while making war in Laos and Cambodia that a president could constitutionally make war wherever, whenever, and however he wanted. Or when Reagan undertook to make war in Nicaragua despite the legally established opposition of the Congress, while trading arms for hostages in violation of the clearly established policy of the United States. We have also witnessed such behavior when Bush Jr. decided that he had the authority to invade and occupy Iraq with or without the approval of the Congress, and that he could do this based on manufactured “intelligence.” And of course we have witnessed, so to speak, such behavior repeatedly by the CIA and other agencies, under presidential guidance, attempting to overthrow and overthrowing legitimately established governments for a variety of reasons, with or without congressional approval. Such misuses and abuses of power seem tailor made for the impeachment process as a means of preserving a republican scheme of government, and especially from aggrandizing presidents.
To use the impeachment process to deal with allegedly bad or illegal behavior that doesn’t endanger our republican scheme of government trivializes that process, while doing nothing to fortify our republican institutions. In fact, insofar as the impeachment process has become merely part of our partisan, electoral politics, being used to overturn election results or to influence future elections, just so far does that process undermine our republic which is already in need of life support. Given that this process has been used in this way by both the Republicans (against Clinton) and the Democrats (against Trump), one could and maybe even should get the impression that neither party wants to revive or resuscitate our republican scheme of government. Our Orwellian oligarchs are content, it seems, to subvert, to kill that republic – even while waving flags and singing “God Bless America.” It is a weird situation.-->