Impeach the (Re)public
The capacity of the American Public to evaluate a President for their behavior in office is void of any recognizable moral principle. We have overlooked rampant sexual violence, treason, and murder on a genocidal scale, and instead removed our leaders from power because they were unfaithful to a spouse, lied to other politicians, and wiretapped political rivals. This oversight is inhumane, and is indicative of a rampant decay of not only the individual intellectual, but also of our collective democratic experiment.
March 24, 2020
Article and Photo By Brian T. Murphy
In December of 2019 and for a third time in our nation’s history, a US President was impeached. President Donald J. Trump was served with two articles of impeachment that detailed abuse of power and obstruction of congress. He held US strategic interests hostage for his own political gain by withholding aid to a key ally, and demanded that a foreign government interfere with our upcoming elections. Video evidence, audio evidence, official transcripts, testimony from several eye witnesses, and even an unapologetic confession from the President himself corroborate that the he is guilty of these offenses. His self-serving actions jeopardized our democratic process and endangered a key strategic ally, and as such are quite worthy of impeachment.
But this is not an essay that argues for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. While our President did clearly commit serious offenses against this county, a more alarming trend is the manner in which the American Public has continuously permitted its elected officials to behave. Though countless examples in our nation’s past paint a grim history of indifference or even public support for grossly immoral behavior, the case is particularly exemplified when assessing it in the context of Presidential impeachment.
In 1974, the US House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon and shortly thereafter he resigned from office. Members of Nixon’s re-election committee broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in order to steal intelligence, and he was personally involved in attempting to conceal this. A massive investigation uncovered that Nixon obstructed justice, lied, and misused the Internal Revenue Service. Today, the Watergate scandal is widely viewed as a national disgrace, and Nixon, a corrupt politician worthy of removal.
Most agree that these acts provided just cause to strip power from our nation’s top executive. But this successful application of our system of checks and balances masked an insidious underlying truth – that a large portion of the American people and their elected representatives were willing to tolerate far worse crimes that did not proffer a resignation from Nixon, nor articles of impeachment from the House. In the years before the Watergate scandal, Nixon tactically undermined peace talks between his own government, allies in south Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front in northern Vietnam. He was a Presidential candidate at the time and his decision to benefit his own campaign over national interests resulted in a four year extension of the war in Vietnam and the unnecessary deaths of an estimated 21,126 American soldiers. As President, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secretly ordered the illegal carpet bombing and invasion of Cambodia, which murdered an estimated 150,000 – 500,000 civilians and allowed the Khmer Rouge to take power and slaughter two million of its own people. Yet, in the wake of a massively destructive act of treason, an abominable lack of regard for human life, and subversion of our system of checks and balances, the act that catalyzed the removal of Nixon from office was spying on his political rivals and trying to cover it up.
The next use of the emergency mechanism of impeachment was in 1998. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for providing false testimony and obstructing justice in regard to sexual relations he had with two women. Notably, he was not impeached for escalating a decade of President Reagan and Bush’s failed drug policies that resulted in the targeted imprisonment of millions of African Americans, its devastation on the collective black family unit, and the ascension of our freedom-touting republic as the world’s most successful incarceration state. President Clinton enacted a devastating series of policies (with bipartisan support) that terrorized an entire race of Americans. Our nation hardly blinked an eye. Rivals only sought his removal from office when he was caught lying about acts of oral sex with a woman other than his wife.
These select examples offer a glimpse into the monstrous behavior that our public is willing to tolerate, and the deep hypocrisy that underscores the exceptional American values we are willing to brag about, but not act upon. Our capacity to evaluate a President for their behavior in office is void of any recognizable moral principle. The American public has overlooked rampant sexual violence, treason, and murder on a genocidal scale, and instead removed our leaders from power because they were unfaithful to a spouse, lied to other politicians, and wiretapped political rivals. This oversight is inhumane.
President Nixon and Kissinger should have been held accountable for their war crimes. The weight of President Clinton’s policies should fall squarely upon him and the legislators who supported them. President Trump’s insistence on placing self-interest over national security should precipitate the end of his rule. But the blind eye that our electorate continuously turns to make these atrocities permissible – that’s our crime. We collectively share this blame, spread across generations, races, ethnicities, and political parties. This viral strain of American culture, manifested most recently in the overwhelming evangelical support of the outwardly immoral President Trump, defines our willingness to overlook extraordinary crimes in order to preserve our own self-interests.
This shadow arching over our nation casts a mounting moral debt that must one day be paid in full. The majority of democracies in the history of time have failed. It is not paranoia, but logic to suspect that ours, the most successful example of self-governance in the history of our species, will be no exception to this. But when will our democratic republic fall? Studies into the factors that have brought about democracy’s demise have shown that abandonment of political procedural norms, inability to adapt to diversifying populations, and election of politicians with little regard for democratic rule, have all been critical to its end. This is among the few times in US history that we currently exhibit all three, and our politicians – along with a polarized base of supporters who view political opponents as enemies – have severely undermined the credibility of our free media and our electoral process through lies and hysteria. The final escalation of this debt may in fact be the election of an inspiring autocrat to lead a nation who tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to adhere to the principles of freedom and civility embedded within its own Constitution.