Jarrett Theberge headshot 2

Three years after the end of the American Civil War, the United States found itself in yet another divisive quagmire - its first impeachment inquiry. 

In 1868, the U.S. Congress opened up an impeachment inquiry against President Andrew Johnson after dismissing the Secretary of War without Senate approval. 

The House passed the impeachment to the Senate trial and Johnson survived by a single vote despite his abuse of power. 

An abuse of power seems to be as timeless as the idea of government itself. President Donald Trump is currently being criticized for just that in his behavior with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. 

In equal parts thankful and resentful, history has a lesson for us when presidents try to gain leverage over opponents through nefarious actions. 

In 1974, Richard Nixon stood red handed as the House moved forward with their impeachment inquiry after the “smoking gun” tape was released in the Watergate Scandal. 

Despite his conivery, Nixon still had a set of morals and realised he had duped the system at the expense of the country’s trust. There was no point in going down swinging after that tape was released. He resigned before the House could vote. 

What’s Trump’s strategy when caught trying to shovel dirt on a political opponent halfway across the world? Act like nothing's wrong. In fact, Trump doubled down when he suggested China investigate Joe Biden. 

It would be easier to accept if he had lied about it. Something about the confidence of self-incrminating admits a dangerous level of narcissism. Even recent history tells us you can lie and still get away with it. Just look at Bill Clinton. 

Impeachment proceedings against Clinton began in late 1998, which eventually pitted him against two articles of impeachment for lying to a grand jury about the relationship he had with Monica Lewinsky and convincing Lewinsky to lie in her testimony on the matter. 

What Clinton does in his intimate relationships are his business, but opposition would argue that as president you are held to a higher standard. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate by a mile. It’s not unconstitutional to lie about cheating on your wife, it’s just a crappy thing to do. 

If lying were really an impeachable offense, Trump would have never seen his midterm. 

We can look at past examples of impeachment and learn from them as we all walk along this shaky bridge together. Because at the other end, whether Trump is impeached or not, is the execution of checks and balances and an America that holds the powerful accountable.

Contact Jarett Theberge at jtheberg@kent.edu.

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