And it came to pass in these days that President Donald J. Trump has undergone a three months long impeachment process which resulted in the preparation of two articles of impeachment approved by the House of Representatives in a majority vote along party lines last night (December 18, 2019) . The articles will be forwarded to the Senate for his trial and possible removal from office.
For those unfamiliar with the American government, here’s a brief overview of what I learned about impeachment in my eighth grade civics class in the small southeastern Texas town of Brazoria in 1959.
Our system of federal government has three co-equal branches as defined by the Constiution of the Unites States: legislative that makes the laws, judiciary that interprets the laws and executive that enforces the laws. All three branches operate within a constitutional framework of checks and balances to prevent any one of the three from making mistakes that endanger our national security and/or our democratic republic.
Impeachment is one of the constitutional checks available for mistakes, really big mistakes known as high crimes and misdemeanors, made by presidents and others. Only the legislative House of Representatives can impeach a president. Impeachment does not mean the president will be removed from office for his high crimes – that can only be done by the Senate which holds a trial on the articles of impeachment approved by the House and votes to either allow the president to stay or evicts him from the Oval Office, West Wing, White House and in this case exiles him to Trump Tower or Mar-a-lago.
President Trump is only the third out of a total of 45 presidents to have been impeached since the Consitution was adopted in 1788. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868, William Jefferson Clinton was impeached in 1998, Richard M. Nixon resigned before his impeachment process could have begun in 1974.
End of civics lesson…and now for the rest of the story.
A few weeks ago I was invited to be a guest speaker for a senior level American history methods class at the University of South Carolina here in Columbia. The instructor, Dr. Dave Snyder, asked me to talk with his class of 20 students about a book he assigned them to read, Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home. The USC Press published this collection of essays by 21 grass roots organizers of the LGBTQ movement in South Carolina from the 1980s through the state’s recognition of marriage equality in 2014. I edited the book and also contributed an essay. I was thrilled to go but also a bit apprehensive – wondering (along with Ellen Degeneres) whether I would be “relevant” to these young college students.
I needn’t have worried. Many of the students had actually read the book and had thoughtful questions about several individual contributors, their motivations for becoming activists, the challenging coming out experiences during the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the 1980s for individuals in a conservative rural state like South Carolina. The discussion was lively and took up the entire 90-minute class period. I hadn’t had that much fun since the tour when the book first came out in 2018.
“When you and the others were doing the organizing back then, did you realize you were making history?” asked one young man in the class. Hm. I really had to think about that before I answered.
“No, I finally said, “I don’t believe we understood that at the time. We just saw injustices and wanted to make them right.”
Unlike the original whistleblower who ignited a firestorm of events that created the impeachment process I watched on television over the past three months which culminated in the articles of impeachment against President Trump last night, I felt I was a bystander in an historical moment. I knew this was history in the making right now as I watched from my favorite recliner in the den. No doubt about it, but this time around I could only observe and hope injustices could be made right.
The People’s House took their place in history by agreeing (1) that our president had abused the power of his office to achieve personal political gain which would disrupt our election process that is a foundation of our republic and (2) that he had showed contempt of Congress by refusing to turn over subpoenaed documents to the impeachment committees while also refusing to allow members of his administration to testify before the House.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi began the House proceedings yesterday with a reminder of our pledge of allegiance we learned and memorized as children. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Have we ever realized our hope for liberty and justice for all? Definitely not. Are we feeling indivisible as a nation today? The answer depends on daily polls that change as often as the wind changes its course. Do we still have a republic supported by the will of we, the people? I think we must be collectively woke to make sure we keep our freedom secure.
Neither President Andrew Johnson nor President Bill Clinton was removed from office by the Senate after their impeachment and there is little likelihood that President Trump will be either. So why bother with impeachment? Why devote we, the people’s taxpayer dollars to an expensive legal process? My answer goes back to our civics lesson today.
No one, not even the President, is above the laws of our land. Every person, even the President, is accountable for his actions. Our holy book, the Constitution of the United States, demands nothing less. The laws we obey keep our democracy safe and help define who we should be. Corruption at the highest level of government has a trickle down effect on lower levels of all government officials in addition to promoting self dealing in our corporate board rooms and executive suites which ignore our commitment to liberty and justice for all. The art of the deal is sometimes based on disrespect and dishonor for those who are “lesser than.”
My dad frequently quoted a Bible verse to me about what was most important to him. A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, he said. I can’t swear he was right because I never had great monetary riches, but I hope my legacy includes “she kept her word, spoke the truth, respected others, fought for what she believed.”I’m hoping for a President who cherishes his or her good name.