Brenda Wineapple’s The Impeachers covers the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Given the current impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, The impeachers is an important read. The reality that many don’t understand the Johnson impeachment, makes The Impeachers even more important.
As someone who appreciates history, I knew some of the story behind the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Still, Wineapple’s book was very informative and thought-provoking. Wineapple’s ability to argue against the widely-accepted argument that Johnson’s impeachment was an improper political event was convincing. Reading the book, thinking about the impeachment of Clinton, and considering the pathetic stories being told by Trump and the GOP today, I realized how a lack of morality has been a consistent driver of decisions made around impeachment. The sad reality that what should be one of the most solemn responsibilities of Congress has always degenerated into political concerns is instructive as Democrats continue their inquiry into Trump.
Before reading The Impeachers, I believed impeaching Andrew Johnson was just. I was certain the Senate’s unwillingness to convict was a wrong that gave the KKK more power and encouraged white supremacy. When I read that John F. Kennedy recognized the Republicans who voted against convicting Johnson as profiles in courage, I was disgusted.
Andrew Johnson was a white supremacist. Andrew Johnson was a huge reason reconstruction failed and black people wound up in conditions barely better than slavery.
Those who failed to convict Johnson were not profiles in courage–they were minimally cowards, maybe up for sale, and quite possibly white supremacists.
Yet 151 years later, we are hearing the same ridiculous arguments about criminal activity. A just society would recognize a president must be held to a moral standard too. The idea that using the levers of government to promote a racist society should always be enough to remove someone from office–whether the specific elements of a crime can be proved. A president need not violate the law to do spectacular harm to the nation they are supposed to lead.
Personally, I would have convicted Bill Clinton and voted to remove him from office. He committed perjury. He abused a subordinate. Bill Clinton’s lies and moral failings were sufficient to remove him from office.
It’s amazing that many Republicans, who screamed morality while trying to remove Clinton, are now arguing no quid pro quo as they try to protect Trump.
As The Impeachers shows, Andrew Johnson was a dangerously unfit, cruel person who, having not been elected by the people, used his power to further divide a fractured nation.
Today, 151 years after Johnson, Trump is using the politics of racism and white supremacy to further divide a divided nation.
If America is to ever come close to living up to its ideals, America is going to have to start fighting for a just society; instead, America is, as it was in 1868, trying to decide whether the ideals so often discussed actually mean what their words mean in the dictionary.
Impeachment should never be a tool used to remove a president disliked by another party. But impeachment should never be a tool America won’t use to remove an unfit president from office.
If you like history and you want to gain an appreciation for the significance of the House’s impeachment inquiry, The Impeachers will be worth your time. If more people read The Impeachers and considered the story it tells, I believe more Americans would realize how often America makes the same mistakes and that those repeated mistakes result from too many not supporting the ideals America was founded to promote.