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CityWatch: Republicans were foolish then, Democrats are foolish now

Trump

Donald J. Trump

I think the impeachment of President Donald Trump ended as it should have, with his acquittal.

But before Republicans praise me or Democrats condemn me, both parties should know this, too: I think the impeachment of President Bill Clinton ended as it should have, with his acquittal.

While both presidents made mistakes, the idea that either one committed an impeachable offense and should have been removed from office shows an increasingly unserious political environment in the U.S.

Indeed, I think the Republicans who impeached Clinton in 1998 and the Democrats who impeached Trump in 2019 were foolish, both politically and intellectually.

One need only look at TV news clips, past and present, of South Carolina’s own Lindsey Graham or New York’s Chuck Schumer (among others) to see flip-flopping at its best from one impeachment to the next.

Many of the arguments Graham made to impeach Clinton were the same ones Schumer made to impeach Trump, and many of the arguments Schumer made to acquit Clinton were the same ones Graham made to acquit Trump. And neither of them seems the least bit bothered by that.

Moreover, while both sides would deny it, Republicans then and Democrats now have much in common, including rank partisanship, stunning hypocrisy and enormous contempt for the president who was being impeached.

The Congressional Republicans of that era despised Bill Clinton personally, just as the Congressional Democrats of today despise Donald Trump personally.

While the 1998 Republican House produced weak articles of impeachment against Clinton and the 2019 Democratic House did the same against Trump, I think all who are honest with themselves know the real reason both presidents were impeached is because they were so intensely disliked by their opponents.

In both cases the opposition party was the party in control of the House, and exercised its partisan will. That should not occur, as the division of the nation when impeachments are one-party, one-sided affairs is damaging to both democracy and decency.

In fact, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as much when she initially warned about the civic and political dangers of impeaching Trump along partisan lines. While she was both correct and gutsy to take that position, sadly she couldn’t hold to it.

Instead, the “get Trump” left did as the “get Clinton” right had done two decades earlier, demanding impeachment based on disdain and disgust, rather than leaving democracy in place. And that is the key word: democracy.

In our system, we the people decide who is president. But one need only look at the nation’s history to see how the House is increasingly trying to override our judgment.

During the first 185 years of the U.S. presidency, one president was impeached (Andrew Johnson). And that came in the wake of the Civil War, no less.

But in just the past 45 years, two presidents have been impeached (Bill Clinton, Donald Trump) and one (Richard Nixon) resigned when impeachment and conviction appeared inevitable. 

It increasingly seems like the party in power in the House (and it has been both) thinks it should decide whether someone should serve as president, as opposed to we, the people, making that call.

Fortunately, the Senate put an end to the Republican House nonsense of 1998 and the Democratic House nonsense of 2019 and acquitted both Clinton and Trump.

Of course, the outcome was never really in doubt in either case, as a two-thirds vote (67 senators) is wisely required for conviction by the U.S. Constitution. As that vote total was never going to be achieved in either the Clinton or Trump trials (and everyone knew it), the impeachments of those presidents were exercises in personal distaste and partisan politics, nothing more and nothing less.

Presidential impeachment proceedings should be a last resort, undertaken only when citizens and their representatives in significant numbers from both parties feel it is necessary and say so (as was the case with President Richard Nixon).

Otherwise, we risk losing our democracy. Regardless of which party you prefer.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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