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When I was growing up it was historical consensus that the impeachment and near removal of Abe Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was a “black mark” on American history. As a kid from Kansas I took immense pride that the Senator who was credited with casting the vote that kept Johnson President represented the State of Kansas. The historian who put Senator Edwin Ross in my sights was none other than John Kennedy in his slim book “Profiles in Courage”. The courage that Kennedy profiled was the political courage to face the voter’s wrath for doing the right thing. And Senator Ross would face the voter’s wrath. Ross would not be reelected.
It would be over a hundred years before Congress would once again undertake such a spectacle as it did when Richard Nixon scrambled to hide his law breaking in 1972 to assure his massive popular reelection. To this day most historians believe that had Nixon simply fessed up instead of covering up his crimes he would have served out his full second term.
But towering egos have a tough time admitting guilt. The same was true for the randy Bill Clinton who swore under oath that, “I did not sleep with that woman.” Republicans who had been reluctant to explore Republican Nixon’s lawlessness decided that Democrat Clinton’s lie rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That is the somewhat vague Constitutional standard for a Presidential removal. It was his lie and not his philandering that got him in trouble, but the fickle American public mostly resented the Republican thumb screws and after his ordeal Bill won back much of his popularity.
For context its worth remembering that there was one act in these three impeachments that did rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It has long since become common knowledge that Richard Nixon’s Presidential campaign in 1968 interfered with the Paris Peace Talks over the Vietnam War to scuttle a peace agreement and insure the defeat of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Was 2016 a reprise of this infamy?
I have always been grateful that Nixon’s successor, the inoffensive Gerald Ford, granted the besmirched Nixon a pardon. I didn’t think putting a former President in jail would do anything other than embitter his supporters who thought he’d been given a raw deal. Most of the public disagreed with Ford’s clemency and saw to it that no good deed would go unpunished. Ford narrowly lost the election of 1976.
There are few people who have detested Donald Trump as long as I have. In 1992, twenty-five years ago, I gave a speech on May 2nd to the Eighth Congressional District Republican Convention at which I said, among other things:
“Let me leave you with this bitter observation. The Republican party has become a party which revels in its criticism of Welfare Queens and become a party which tolerates, even worships, the Donald Trumps, Michael Milkins, Charles Keatings and Ivan Boeskies of the world.”
I grimly enjoyed in the magnificent outburst of boos my old party gave me. Even so, I have a warning to those who are relishing what might become of Donald Trump. America has no guarantee of surviving Trump’s removal from office unscathed. Other than Senator John McCain it is not obvious to me that the Republicans of 2018 care more for the rule of law than they do for the rule of divide-and-conquer. In this they are unlike the Republicans of 1974. It was the Republican stalwart, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who went to talk Dick Nixon into doing the right thing. Of course, it goes without saying that no one can talk to our current President.
I do have one unconditional expectation - that Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation be allowed to proceed unhindered by Congress.
If this investigation is to be halted let it be Donald Trump, alone, who risks the nation’s wrath by pulling the plug. If he does so all of Mueller’s evidence must be spread out on the table for the American public to see. If Trump’s campaign attempted to pull a Richard Nixon by subverting the 2017 election I’ll be watching to see how the Republicans in Congress deal with the choice between being profiles in courage or profiles in cowardice.
Whatever happens it will not be a good day for America. No one should rejoice should their wishes be answered. For those who pray it will time for them to bow their heads.
Harry Welty is a small-time politician who also pontificates at www.lincolndemocrat.com