That “Teachable Moment”
The news shows and their pundits have been raising quite a ruckus about this whole Trump Impeachment story, haven’t they? What I keep hearing is how significant it is that the House has finally commenced an Impeachment Inquiry. “This has only happened four times in United States history!” they keep telling us --- and that’s true, of course. But let’s put some perspective on that claim.
If we agree that the United States, as an independent, sovereign government/country began on July 4, 1776 then this nation is currently is 243 years old. While other places are older, by a lot (Rome, 713 BCE, Mumbai 3rd Century BCE, Paris 508, London 4th Century CE, Cairo 4th Century CE, Beijing 221 BCE), the U.S. has the oldest working government around (the British monarchs maintained power right up until Victoria’s reign, China is celebrating its 70th birthday, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, etc.). If you were born in 1949, as I was, you have actually been alive for 28% of the United States entire history. And if we consider all the hullabaloo surrounding the 50th anniversary of 1969 (Moonwalk, Woodstock, etc.), it’s significant to note that 50 years is over 20% of U.S. history --- a pretty good size chunk. Returning to our pundits, who keep announcing how historic this Impeachment Inquiry is, I’d offer this: yes, there have only been four Presidential impeachment proceedings in U.S. history BUT three of those have occurred in the past 46 years. That means if you are between the ages of, say, 55 and 100, you only missed Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868!
Let’s also keep in mind that the Nixon impeachment proceedings never went to the Senate for a vote --- short-circuited by his resignation from office --- and the Clinton impeachment was a farce from Day One. The Trump supporters, of course, are trying to claim that this inquiry is just the result of jealous Democrats who still haven’t gotten over losing the 2016 election. Here are some simple facts --- Clinton was impeached for lying about receiving oral sex and we already have evidence of this President paying off a porn star to keep quiet about a sexual affair. There also seems to be significant evidence regarding violations of Emoluments Clause, and we have the Twitter-in-Chief’s own admission to his “perfect” conversation with the President of Ukraine, in which military aid was clearly being withheld unless there was a “favor” regarding an investigation into a potential political rival in the 2020 election. Oh, yes, and there is quite a bit of evidence in that Mueller report about Trump and his minions “ignoring” (if not abetting) Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Teachable Moment
We shall see how this all plays out, of course, and maybe we’ll have a front row seat to a full-blown Impeachment. Back in the early 1970s I had just started my teaching career at Blind Brook Jr/Sr High School in Westchester County, New York. I was teaching 7th and 8th grade “American Studies” (history and literature, coordinated with the English Department) and, despite being a “novice” teacher, saw no reason U.S. history should be taught in the plodding chronological manner I had been subjected to --- there is not one shred of evidence that people remember historical information best if it is taught that way. In fact, there is evidence that people seem to remember things better if they see patterns and connections. That said, in the fall of 1973, particularly after the October 20th “Saturday Night Massacre” (When Nixon ordered the firing of the Special Counsel Archibald Cox and his Attorney General Eliot Richardson and Assistant Attorney General William Ruckelshaus both resigned, believing his order was illegal. The Solicitor General, Robert Bork, carried out Nixon’s firing, which resulted in the Congress shifting into high gear in its Impeachment Inquiry), it seemed a great way to get my students interested (and possibly involved) in how the U.S. government works. This was a perfect vehicle for addressing Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances, cornerstones of our Constitutional system’s design. THIS is the “teachable moment” teacher’s always long for. And now, in 2019, we have one again --- if you can wade through the Administration’s and Media’s incessant blathering and distractions and simply focus on facts.
For those who may be unclear as to the mechanics of Impeachment, here’s a quick summary (the “teachable moment” of this essay): “the President, Vice President, and all Civil Officers of the United States” may be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” A classically vague and malleable statement. The process for impeachment follows the procedure of a trial with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presiding, the House of Representatives serving as investigators and Prosecutors, and the Senate acting as the Jury. This is why the House is currently conducting an Impeachment Inquiry. If they believe Trump has committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” they will pass a Bill of Impeachment, specifying charges. In Nixon’s case, for example, he was charged with obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. The Founders did not want Impeachment to be used frivolously, of course, (there have been 64 impeachments in all of U.S. history --- including Judges, Justices, Senators, etc.) so conviction requires a supermajority (2/3rds of the Senate --- which means 67 Senators would have to vote to convict Trump). Conviction only results in removal from office --- there are no other penalties. Once someone is removed from office, though, they may face civil or criminal charges in various courts of law (which is why Gerald Ford’s Pardon of Nixon created such a furor). Basically, that’s all there is to it --- kind of like a Law and Order episode. The House investigates and prosecutes just as our police departments and District Attorneys do in local matters. John Roberts would get to be the Judge and the Senate would listen to the case the House brings before it and vote “yea” or “nay” to convict.
I’d predict that the Democrats will not rush through the investigation and drafting of specific charges --- even if they have a preponderance of evidence --- because they probably want to run this whole circus right up to November of 2020, so Trump will have to defend himself every step of the way. In this crazy environment, though, they may have damning evidence against Pence, too, which might lead to a quick trial, removal and, dare we say it, President Pelosi?
Okay, class, that’s all we have time for today. Any questions before the bell rings?