A set of scholarly essays introduced by presidential scholar Engel offers historical context and precedent to a sticky Constitutional issue very much in the current public debate.
“Only three times in American history has a president’s conduct led to such political outrage or disarray as to warrant his potential removal from office,” writes Engel (Founding Director, Center for Presidential History/Southern Methodist Univ.; When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War, 2017, etc.) in his introduction. Here, Engel and three other notable scholars present and analyze the cases. Weary of the sins of tyrants, the framers of the Constitution recognized the need for a strong unifying leader yet had the prescience to know that the ballot box alone could not deter corruption. Moreover, impeachment guarded against the recourse to assassination, while the steep legislative hurdles to the impeachment process resisted removing a president solely due to unpopularity. Yet, as Pulitzer-winning historian Meacham (The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, 2018, etc.) points out, in the precedent-setting case of Andrew Johnson, impeachment became “a weapon of politics” that could be used during a time of “great political passion but without clear violation of law.” As Naftali (Public Service/New York Univ.; George H.W. Bush, 2007, etc.) notes, for Richard Nixon, whose Saturday Night Massacre “awoke presidential impeachment from a century-long slumber,” the subsequent impeachment hearings proceeded in a nonpartisan fashion; the attempt to hide the tapes exposed “the ugliness of Nixon’s approach to power.” Nixon clearly demonstrated what the framers decreed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” In the case of Bill Clinton, as astutely delineated by New York Times chief White House correspondent Baker (Obama: The Call of History, 2017, etc.), impeachment became an “out-of-control coup d’état by prurient Republicans who sought to exploit personal failings for partisan gain.” While Engel does not offer as much speculation about Donald Trump as many readers would like, he reminds us that “one need not act illegally in order to act treasonably.”
An important book: impeccably researched and well-presented.