The most obvious difference between the impeachment process launched two decades ago against then-President Bill Clinton and the one started this week against President Donald Trump comes out of the mouths of congressional leaders serving during both administrations.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., dismisses the effort to remove Trump.
“From my point of view, to impeach any president over a phone call like this would be insane,” Graham said of the conversation Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had July 25.
Back in 1999, however, Graham found it perfectly reasonable to remove a sitting president over an illicit affair with an intern.
“You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role,” said Graham, then a member of the House who served as one of Clinton’s impeachment prosecutors.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who this past week called for Trump’s impeachment, found herself on the opposite side back in 1998.
“Today the Republican majority is not judging the president with fairness, but impeaching him with a vengeance,” she said on the House floor.
“We are here today because the Republicans in the House are paralyzed with hatred of President Clinton,” she continued. “Until the Republicans free themselves of that hatred, our country will suffer.”
Those words are familiar, because they are all but identical to what Republicans are saying about Democrats today.
That marks the other major similarity between the two proceedings. Clinton supporters didn’t care then what he did and pointed to the strong economy as to why his indiscretions should be overlooked, just as Trump and his supporters are doing now.
We have watched for three years while normal standards of truth have been ignored and ridiculed, and wonder how that history can be overcome to provide a fair, reasonable judgment about the president’s actions. Both chambers of Congress have proved themselves incapable of making apolitical decisions, and impeachment proceedings will be directed through a kangaroo court. Whether found guilty or innocent, a vast share of Americans will find the Trump verdict illegitimate.
That leaves our country in a very perilous place when efforts to deliver justice can be so easily dismissed.
For that reason, in mid-July, we argued in this space that voters are who should decide whether Trump is suited to continue holding office. There are legitimate questions as to his fitness in how he has conducted the nation’s business, but with an electorate not willing to answer those questions with objectivity, the ballot box is where the sole reasonable resolution to the political crisis can be rendered.
The future of our country is more important than one person or one political party. America will, likely in less time than it will take to have an impeachment trial, decide what type of nation we want to be when it casts its presidential vote. Accepting the results of that election might be the best way to keep the country from finishing the job of tearing itself in two.