Initially, I planned to quote your first sentence – “The whole impeachment system makes me queasy.” – and then simply reply “Me, too.”
But, being a glutton for punishment, I decided instead to wade into a discussion of the mechanics of impeachment, together with some of its pros and cons.
I will probably regret this decision. But, what the hell, here goes –
Impeachment is not a uniquely American political process – several other countries (about six, or so) also have impeachment procedures for getting rid of elected officials convicted of certain misdeeds. For persons outside those countries, the impeachment process is understandably puzzling. But, sadly, even Americans are largely ignorant of why impeachment exists, and how it is to be carried out.
The concept is simple enough. Impeachment is one of the checks-and-balances our Founders laid down in our Constitution, to make it possible for our Congress to deal with a criminal, rogue, or otherwise out-of-control President – or other U.S. government office-holder.
For now, let’s consider only impeachment of a President.
It is sometimes said that impeachment is a political process, not a legal process. But, I can’t wrap my head around that contention. Impeachment has all the earmarks of a legal proceeding, with charges leveled against the president by the House of Representatives, and a trial of the President on those charges by the Senate, resulting (if convicted) in the removal of the President from office.
It looks like a legal proceeding to me.
However, it can be readily politicized – as has been the case every time impeachment has been attempted. And the political circus it inevitably turns into probably explains why some believe it to be entirely political, and not at all legal.
I’m not qualified to offer a dissertation on impeachment. Even if I was qualified, I wouldn’t spend the hours that such a dissertation would require. So, I will simply offer some observations, which may or may not answer the questions implied in your post.
President Trump has not been impeached. Impeachment is not even (yet) up for a vote in the House of Representatives. Rather, a committee of the House, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff, is conducting an “inquiry” into whether Articles of Impeachment should be drawn up against the President and submitted to the full House for debate and a vote.
The process which has begun, and is unfolding, is not one branch of government employing checks-and-balances to hold another branch of government accountable, as the Founders described impeachment in the Constitution. Rather, it is one political party attempting to remove a President of the other party whom they could not defeat in the last election, and fear they will not be able to defeat in the next election. This process is possible only because the President is a Republican, and the Democrats control the House of Representatives.
It’s widely believed that, even if impeachment goes forward in the House, there is zero chance that the Republican-controlled Senate will convict and remove President Trump. Some believe that the Senate will not even conduct a trial (assuming charges are sent up from the House). Which begs the question: Why are the Democrats in the House going through a useless exercise, knowing that they will lose in the end? It’s generally believed that their calculus is as follows: If enough damning or embarrassing information can be generated against the President, then his support in the country will be weakened to the point that either (1) he will resign (the hoped-for outcome), or (2) he will fail to win reelection in November 2020.
President Trump is the fifth American President to face an impeachment attempt.
The attempt to impeach President John Tyler (1842) failed in the House. President Andrew Johnson was impeached (1868), but was subsequently acquitted by the Senate. President Richard Nixon faced probable impeachment, but resigned (1974) before Articles of Impeachment were formally drawn up. And President Bill Clinton was impeached (1998), but was subsequently acquitted by the Senate. In other words, in our history, no President has been removed from office by conviction in the Senate on Articles of Impeachment.
Wikipedia states: “The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment proceedings only 64 times since 1789, only 19 of these proceedings actually resulting in the House’s passing Articles of Impeachment, and of those, only eight resulted in removal from office (all federal judges).”
The Constitution does not define impeachment. Apparently, the Founders believed that the term “impeachment” was well enough understood by educated people of the late eighteenth century to need no further elaboration. Nor does the Constitution describe how impeachment proceedings are to be conducted, except to say that the trial in the Senate shall be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The Constitution makes clear that the only penalty for conviction in the Senate shall be removal from office (and a lifetime ban on holding any future office). However, it specifically provides that “the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.” If impeachment itself is viewed as a legal proceeding, then this provision would seem to constitute double jeopardy – a consideration which tends to bolster the argument that impeachment is not a legal proceeding, but rather is a political process.
In my opinion, there is more than enough political hanky-panky in the current impeachment theatrics to justify the mockery and ridicule of the political cartoonists. And I welcome every opportunity to contribute to that mockery and ridicule. I can’t imagine any thinking person – Republican, Democrat, or Independent – failing to recognize that the Schiff hearings are a total sham.