Let’s not lie, we’ve all thought about it. You might not know exactly what it is or how it works, but I bet you’ve wondered what it’ll take for the president-elect to get thrown out of office. Some may (myself included) wonder why he hasn’t been thrown out already. Well, Felix is here to talk you through the wonderful, weird world of impeachment.
Impeachment has sadly no fruity overtones despite the name. Juicy as the governmental gossip might be, it has more in common with impeding than anything else. First off, impeachment doesn’t just happen to presidents — in fact, they’re a rarity. Other officials are far more likely to be impeached, purely because to impeach a president takes some doing.
Impeachment involves more hoop-jumping than Crufts and a lot less cute. The decision to impeach is based on some very vague laws, and must involve the both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In simple terms, the Reps decide if there’s grounds to impeach, the Senate hold the trial. Realistically, there’s too many steps to detail: what’s important to know is it’s not easy.
Throughout history, only three presidents have ever begun the impeachment process. The most famous is Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal. What most don’t know is that Nixon was never actually impeached; he resigned before the process had really got going. Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson also faced it, but both were acquitted and allowed to keep their position.
A History Lesson
So what earned them all the ultimate slap on the wrist? Well Johnson’s involves a lot of headache-inducing unfamiliar terminology. Essentially he tried to get round a law designed to stop Presidents having absolute control in removing officials from office. Congress weren’t happy about it and impeached him: in the end, he kept his job by one vote, and the man he tried to get rid of resigned anyway. Lucky on both counts.
Bill Clinton is far more recognisable: he was impeached for two reasons, perjury and obstruction of justice. Why? Because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. He had ‘sexual relations’ with Monica Lewinsky, an intern at the White House. While reprehensible, that in itself is not impeachable. What got him his day in court was denying it himself under oath, and convincing Lewinsky to do the same. He too was acquitted but frankly should be held accountable for the effective ruination of Lewinsky, aged only 21 to his 48 at the time.
Is it just criminal acts that put impeachment up for debate? Well the law states that you can be removed from office if convicted of treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanours. Its that last part that throws shade on the whole system. A misdemeanour is by definition minor, so what on earth is a high one?
Turns out, no one’s sure and it’s up to the House of Representatives to decide. Of course, the Representatives and the Senate are made up of different party members. In Clinton’s trial, not a single Democrat (his own party) voted guilty. If you’re going to be impeached, you really have to lose some of your own party’s trust and respect.
Former President Ford stated that high crimes and misdemeanours were “whatever a majority in the House of representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history”. Effectively, whatever seems right at the time. Constitution lawyers have helped out, saying that breaking the law, abuse of power and violation of public trust are the real issues. Alexander Hamilton adds using the position for personal gain, which has serious consequences for the president-elect.
The Ticking Trump Time Bomb
These are what Trump should avoid if he cares to stay in power. Ironically, he’s probably already well on his way to doing all three. His duty to uphold the first amendment, allowing freedom of speech, is well out the window. He has journalists fearing for their future as he threatens lawsuits against negative coverage. Trump’s automatic ‘sue-you’ response is so common there’s actually an online clock counting the days between each threat. The number of libel suits he threatens and pursues border on insane.
There’s been never-ending speculation about his taxes and whether he has in fact evaded them before ever stepping into office. Refusing to provide his tax returns as every presidential candidate has previously does nothing to quash such rumours. If anything, it proved that he feels himself above and beyond the laws that apply to everyone else.
Violation of public trust is trickier: it doesn’t seem to count for much in this post-truth world of ours. Does the litany of promises made and quickly broken count? It seems pretty certain that Trump has already steamrollered trust. Recent polls show that his approval rating is the lowest for any president-elect since the poll began.
Watch This Space
So with all this in mind, does impeachment loom likely in the future? When you look at the way Nixon, the only president in history forced from office, viewed presidential power there are alarming similarities. Nixon’s famous quote “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal” is eerily echoed in Trump’s “…the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
If Trump believes he can use the position to avoid the law, he’ll face quite the shock. But even that relies on Congress maintaining its benchmark for impeachment. For me, they’ve already let far too much slide and it’s an unsettling precedent. As Teen Vogue fantastically reported, Trump has gaslighted America: lulling them into believing his lies until they accept anything he does. If he manages to do the same with the senate, who knows when and how this madness might end.