Impeaching the Imperial Presidency

We Should Have a National Discussion about Crimes and Misdemeanors

Impeachment is in the air, and now American citizens must contend with deciding whether or not their President is guilty of “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Indeed, we should have this conversation and establish a standard by which to hold the President of the United States accountable for his or her actions in the future. We should also discuss just how narrowly or how broadly we want to apply these standards.

Historically, the American people have applied the standards of what constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors on a very narrow spectrum. To date, only two presidents since World War II have come close to violating these standards. Richard Nixon likely would have been formally removed from office had he not stepped down voluntarily. Bill Clinton entered the formal process of impeachment, but it was decided that his actions may have been censorious, but did not constitute high crimes or misdemeanors.

In Nixon’s case, he was being held to account for what amounted to participating in breaking and entering and then covering it up when caught. Clinton lied to a grand jury about sex. These are bad things to do, no doubt. The President of the United States should not order and then cover up a B and E. He should also not lie to a grand jury even over something as petty as a sexual affair. These things are illegal and they also offend our American sensibilities.

However, both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were also involved in other egregious behavior that, if done by anyone else in any other context, should have met the criteria of “high crime” let alone “misdemeanor.” These actions went far beyond the petty crimes for which they were ultimately called to account. These crimes were massive on a scale of human destruction, with countless thousands of victims, lives ended and destroyed both directly and indirectly as a result of their actions.

Yet, these crimes, for some reason, did not offend American sensibilities at that time, nor are they particularly offensive to Americans today. That says more about us than it says about them.

In fact, if we take a look at the actions of our presidents since the United States emerged as a world power, we can see actions that are far more devastating than those currently open to debate. If we are going to have a conversation about holding those in the seat of what has become an imperial presidency to account, maybe we should have a broader discussion as to what constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor.

Below is a brief primer introducing some of the possible topics of discussion.

Maybe the world would be a better place if Americans held a more global view of what constitutes a high crime.

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