since 1995 I have been a secondary social studies teacher, most of the time teaching US Government in some form or another, especially since I first began teaching in a high school in August of 1998. I have been a “classroom” teacher of government for 3 of the 4 Presidential impeachment trials in American history. Somehow I did manage to miss the first.
But there have been four serious attempts at impeaching a President during my lifetime. The only one sure to succeed was the effort to remove Nixon, who resigned before the entire House took action on his case, knowing he would be impeached by the Democratic House and having been told by Barry Goldwater that he would overwhelmingly lose a Senate trial where Goldwater himself would vote for his conviction.
The impeachment of Clinton and the first impeachment of Trump never had any real chance of reaching 67 votes. And I suspect that the only chance of convicting Trump this time would have required McConnell to announce that he was going to vote to convict because the evidence was so overwhelming and even then it would have been marginal whether he could have gotten enough of his Republican brethen to join him to get over 65 votes to convict. I suspect if he felt he could get the number up to the mid 70s he MIGHT have tried, but absent that he was looking for cover for his caucus.
But I view this in a larger context which I would like to explore below.
Let me offer if I may several events from the past few centuries, both here and abroad.
It took too long to draw hard lines against the use of violence in the disputes over slavery and its expansion. That got us Bleeding Kansas which got us John Brown at Harper’s Ferry which helped get us the Civil War.
The fact that Andrew Johnson undercut attempts to hold Confederates accountable — even though his successor Grant was harsh towards the first iteration of the Klan — led to the decision to abandon reconstruction to resolve the disputed election of 1876 which created almost a century of suppression of various minorities starting of course with the emancipated slaves and their descendants, but also spreading to hostility over time towards East Asians and Eastern and Southern Europeans, who of course were not of White Northern European descent, and such prejudice was widespread in the North, building on extant hostility towards Irish Catholics in Northern cities.
Too many Americans seem unaware of the Klan’s resurgence in the 1920s, and the dominance it had in places like Indiana, or of its massive march in Klan regalia down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Only more recently have people become aware of how American our political and social violence has been, how much a part of history, not merely in things like Preston Brooks beating Charles Sumner almost to death on May 22, 1856, in the Old Senate Chamber, but in the destruction of Black participation both in the political and economic life of this country, and not just in the South.
Without honest history and accountability, the only lessons learned are how better to be extreme in the future. We did not hold Confederates fully accountable, and we got the Lost Cause and the mythology around that and lost a chance to perhaps truly heal the nation, and have as a result had more than a century of race-based violence and the perpetuation of the myth of White Supremacy, now wrapped in the mantle of “Christian” nationalism, although I remind folks this it not new for those of us sentient in the 1950s with Moral Rearmament and the trope of “kill a Commie for Christ”.
Perhaps we can go across our Eastern Ocean to the Germanic part of Europe. Because Hitler was not severely punished for his failed coup, we eventually saw the devastations of the horrible 2nd World War and the Holocaust, of which a nation predominantly of European origin are at least aware although parts of that horror are still denied by some, yet we remain largely either ignorant of or insensitive to a different set of horrors perpetuated in the aim of the Greater East Asian Coprosperity Sphere by the Empire of Japan, and pay attention only to what was done to us and our supposed heroic response. Yes we had those who were heroic. but In that war and our later conflicts in Eastern and Southern Asia we also committed atrocities that we rationalized, or we excused, so that wrongdoers of our kind were never fully punished or even held accountable.
Perhaps we can look to our South, where a non-high-ranking military officer in Venezuela attempted a coup that failed,,yet somehow a few years later had established a somewhat dictatorial regime whose authoritarian aspects have continued under his successor. But then, despite our ostensibly being a liberal democracy we have a long history of supporting those to whom liberal democracy is a threat because we benefit from “dependable allies” and we seem not to care so much at the costs of those under whose regimes they live.
We did not hold Nixon fully accountable.
We have not held Trump fully accountable.
Because folks went after Nixon and early in her career Hillary Rodham had been a part of that, for some that was justification for going after Bill Clinton via impeachment, even knowing they would never get a conviction. Already we have heard Lindsey Graham threaten impeachment of VP Harris, a continuation of threats against Hillary Clinton that date back to the Obama administration — after all, the hearings on Benghazi were designed to weaken her candidacy for President — just ask Kevin McCarthy.
Politics has long been blood sport. After all, Mitch McConnell made clear his primary goal beginning in 2009 was to make Barack Obama a one-term President, which is why he participated in an infamous dinner meeting trying to facilitate that goal, that while it did not succeed may have playe a key role in crippling much of what the Obama administration had hoped to achieve.
We are at a critical time in this country.
I will turn 75 in May,
With my health history I have a life expectancy of perhaps a decade.
I teach government and history.
I think it reasonable to expect that before I depart this earth American government may well no longer be a liberal democracy.
It is not beyond reason to expect political violence on a scale that would dwarf what happened on January 6.
The wind has already been sown, and it may be only a matter of time before the season for reaping the whirlwind is upon us.
I will finish teaching this school year. My school, so far as I know (and I have asked) wants me back.
I hesitate, because I am no longer sure what I will be teaching.
If elected officials know the dangers that Trump unleashed and yet remain unwilling to exercise the power legitimately theirs to remove him from future political life, regardless of whatever political or violent threats they may fear, then perhaps it is too late for me to believe I can make a difference. And then why teach, and what would I instruct were I willing to try to continue.
To be clear, I have not YET given up hope. But I am getting close.
Over recent weeks and months my participation here has diminished, because — as with my teaching — I was no longer sure my offering through post my words and thoughts had any value.
I am old.
I am tired.
In a sense, even writing a piece like this seems almost pointless. I will do little to promote it, and will not be devastated if it draws little traffic.
I am not angry,
I am probably not only sad, but also depressed.
Not having children, my legacy was to be my teaching, the vocation to which I came two and half decades ago.
Now I ask myself what difference it can make, as I ask the same question about my political efforts, including offering thoughts online.
Perhaps I can be like those in the movie of Farenheit 451 who have committed to memory something valuable, perhaps a single book, that they can still orally pass on to others.
It is the middle of a 3 day weekend. I have two tests to create before Tuesday, and about 200 or so student papers still to read and grade.
We have three felines new to our household and the two male kittens and the elder female do not seem to want to get along. They all need our attention. Dealing with that, with their needs, at least makes me feel of use.
So does washing dishes by hand, making meals and coffee for my wife, doing the routines of maintaining our household as we continue to live apart from others, connected only electronically and by phone.
I have music to which I can listen
There are books to read, and others to reread.
Perhaps it is finally time for me to begin to withdraw from public life, because it is so damn depressing to feel I can no longer make a difference.