Over the course of America’s political history, the American public has been witness to just three instances of Presidential impeachment proceedings. As debate mounts in the international media and political communities as to whether the United States Congress has the grounds – or the will – to instigate impeachment proceedings against President Trump, the modern American populace must prepare to contend with the political and societal turmoil associated with the American Presidential impeachment process.
The United States Constitution defines an impeachable offence as “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Beginning in 1868, President Andrew Johnson underwent the country’s first ever Presidential impeachment proceedings when his executive actions fell under the category of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” for violating the antiquated Tenure of Office Act. Afterwards, a whole 106 years would pass until President Richard Nixon’s links to the Watergate scandal would place him under the same category of offences and prompt the next course of American Presidential impeachment proceedings, in 1974. Most recently, in 1998, President Bill Clinton endured the last case of the impeachment process after he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.
In the cases of Nixon and Clinton, the American public was inundated with years of national political disorder and unpredictability while experiencing frustration in navigating the complex trajectory of impeachment proceedings in the US Congress. The impeachment process in first requires investigation by the House Judiciary Committee before movement can begin in the House of Representatives and Senate chambers. Because of this, the investigation and impeachment processes for President Nixon took place over several years, and would never come to fruition as Nixon resigned from office before either legislative chamber was able to approve his impeachment. For President Clinton, impeachment proceedings lasted two years and ultimately resulted in total acquittal of the President and his crimes, by the Senate (after the House of Representatives voted to impeach him).
Nineteen years later, as President Trump and his administration are prodded closer to the reality of impeachment proceedings each day, the American constituency has again become more familiar with the convoluted process of Presidential impeachment. However, it is not clear whether this new constituency is equipped to cope with the certain onslaught of widespread societal discourse and subsequent administrative turnover.
Should the American electorate expect to actively participate in the political event of the decade and satisfactorily navigate these uncertain political times, it is imperative that the citizenry critically re-evaluates its role in the political sphere and bolsters its position by becoming better informed and well-versed in adept methods of public participation. If today’s American constituency was to effectively participate in the possible impeachment proceedings of President Trump, the United States could face its very first successful Presidential impeachment and removal event.
Then again, what exactly would America’s first consecutive Presidential impeachment and conviction proceedings look like? In the case that articles of impeachment against President Trump were approved in both the House of Representatives and Senate chambers, the removal of Trump from office would occur immediately. In his wake, Vice President Mike Pence would assume the role of President. However, some in America also wonder whether the current Vice President could also be implicated in the possible conviction of President Trump. If that were to happen, the government officials next in line for presidential office are the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, and then Senate president pro tempore, Senator Orrin Hatch (who is the oldest person in the Senate, aged 83).
While it is interesting to deliberate just how far the presidential line of succession may spread considering the state of current implications, a more important question necessary to address in the aftermath of potential removal of President Trump from office is what the incident could mean to America and its citizens. Speaking from my personal view as an American citizen, I believe that the removal of a sitting US President from office under the circumstances of unquestionable treason could truly create a nationwide existential crisis regarding American political values and identity. When I think back to the recent conservations I’ve had with family, friends, and colleagues of all political affiliations on the matter, I realise that we as Americans are going to have to re-examine the patriotic identity we have claimed for generations. If the top political official in our country even has questions to answer over possible collusion with a foreign power to undermine and influence a national election, to whom will the American people look for leadership and to whom will we pledge allegiance? If one of our democracy’s fundamental pillars – free and fair elections – has been compromised, are we still the democratic country we have been so proud to be?
It is these questions that millions of Americans are arguably not ready to answer.