Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and now Donald Trump. He joins the list of sitting American presidents against whom impeachment proceedings were initiated. Johnson and Clinton were both later acquitted by the senate.
Nixon resigned before they could bite. As public hearings began yesterday, Trump’s fate was dramatically unclear. Whatever the outcome, the proceedings represent a defining moment in American history, one in which it is palpably clear that no leader is above the law.
The case against Trump grows ever more serious and alarming. His racism and damaging policies were bad enough, but now he stands accused of using his office to blackmail an ally in order to secure a political advantage in the 2020 presidential elections. This is bad enough on its own terms, worse when considering that ally is the Ukraine, a country in the middle of a territorial dispute with Russia: the country that so flagrantly sought to tamper with the 2016 US election.
Republicans in the Senate are not likely to turn on Trump, but Democrats clearly hope the public will after hearing what has transpired. The risk, however, is that by now the narrative has become to convoluted for anyone to care. And Republicans have already began to engage in dramatic protest measures to get their message of yet another witch hunt across.
All of it is also risky because just one year shy of 2020, there’s no clear Democratic contender. Does Joe Biden have too much baggage? Can Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Saunders win? Is Hillary Clinton making moves to possibly run again? Impeachment hearings may do little to pivot the scales when it comes to Trump’s die-hard supporters. And they remain a most intractable group intent on having their voices equally heard.
If, then, the message of the impeachment is to be largely symbolic, it remains, nonetheless, an important message for leaders all over the world to hear. History will record that leaders will always face checks and balances and that no matter how deeply-orchestrated a cover-up, truth will out. The impeachment hearings are largely due to a single whistleblower.
We may feel matters like this are far removed from us, but one recent international scandal continues to demonstrate the reach of foreign actors on our soil. Renewed interest in the statements of a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, which has now triggered two probes at the behest of Minister of National Security Stuart Young into illegal interception of communications, shows how we cannot dismiss claims of wrongdoing.
As is the case with the allegations against Trump, we hope officials will get to the bottom of the matter, that facts will emerge, that the national interest – and not narrow partisan politics – will prevail.