History of Impeachment is Reining in the King

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans      Watching tennis volleys can get tedious if you are stuck on an elliptical machine at the gym and nothing else is on, and these are the top men and women’s professionals.  The same thing could be said already about the back-and-forth between the House, Senate, and the White House on the impeachment proceedings.  Enough already!  Thrust and parry.  But, whatever, like tennis, if that’s all that’s on, then you have to watch it.

Most interesting to me has been the Trump stonewalling tactic in all of its machinations.  He and his team seem to want to argue that he and his posse are exempt from any investigation of criminal activity and even any practice involving Congressional oversight functions, whether impeachment or not.  A case is now heading for the Supreme Court on whether or not prosecutors in New York can get is tax returns.  Other cases are on their way as well, all of which go right to the heart of whether or not the president is all powerful, essentially the King of America, or whether or not there continues to be effective checks-and-balances envisioned under the Constitution to the power of the president.

Jill LePore, Harvard historian, wrote a riveting, and her usual comprehensive, piece on the history of impeachment in a recent issue of the New Yorker.  It was something of a chilling read, because it was impossible in reading about the English derivation of the practice seeking to control the omnipotence of the king not to constantly find oneself seeing the similarities between the practices of the royalty there and the wannabe king now in the White House.

The history of impeachment in England was a contest between whether the royal ruler would be all-powerful and unaccountable to Parliament and the people or not.  First, the practice was only available in dealing with the royal ministers and their abuses.  Once established several hundred years ago it was revived in another dispute in the early 1700s, marking the final emasculation of the governing power of the royals and establishing the Parliament as the critical body in the country.  LePore makes the point that all of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention invariably were aware of the more recent English practice – and success – with impeachment and placed impeachment in every draft of the document as a central policy mandate for accountability.  She is also clear about the broadness of the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” and their spot-on relevance to the current impeachment debate and allegations.

Besides the peccadilloes, perfidy, and, frankly, high crimes and misdemeanors of the current occupant of the White House, there can’t be any doubt that the question of whether or not we have a royal presidency or continue to be able to claim effective checks and balances is at the heart of the back-and-worth in Washington now.