Impeachment is in the air. The Democrats, as they prepare to take up the House, promise a “cannon of subpoenas.”

I’ve discussed the impeachment possibilities in President Trump’s many imbroglios here. Today, let’s take a look at other instances of Presidential misconduct that should have brought impeachment. Our trip down impeachment memory lane reveals that political (that is to say tribal) crimes have always driven the process. Concerns for the greater good of the nation rarely factor (libertarians are not surprised).

Here are some real, which is to say non-political, Presidential crimes that did not result in impeachment:

  • Nixon’s triple threat (I guess three strikes and you’re out really is a thing):

1) The 25th Amendment : Nixon liked to get drunk and threaten the Soviet Union with nuclear annihilation in his “madman” theory of negotiating power, meeting the definition not only of incapacity, but dangerously, world-threateningly so. Let’s call it incapacity with nuclear malice. I routinely put people like this in the ER, under the definition of “impending threat to self and others,” pending a two-physician order for psychiatric committal. Had Nixon driven his car in this condition he should have been arrested, let alone impeached. It seems fair to say our culture has simply refused to grapple with the full implications of an evil, drunken President waving nuclear war around like Yosemite Sam.

2) Nixon torpedoed peace overtures in the Vietnam war to keep a bludgeon he could use against his (political) enemies during his election campaign. Tens of thousands of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese had their lives ruined so that Nixon could contest for the office he would later uniquely dishonor.

3) Nixon was not impeached for warring on Cambodia and Laos without Congressional authorization. Ten members of Congress signed a resolution stating: “It is difficult to imagine Presidential misconduct more dangerously in violation of our constitutional form of government than Mr. Nixon’s decision secretly and unilaterally to order the use of American military power against another nation, and to deceive and mislead the Congress about this action” (W. Bush 43 did much the same, read on).

Of course, Nixon would have been successfully impeached for spying on the Democratic Presidential campaign, had he not been forced by Republicans to resign, but this was the product of more functional politics (though nowhere near functional enough). My intuition tells me a leader of that era better understood that a civil servant was called to uphold the greater good from their near ubiquitous national service in World War Two. And that is all the difference.

  • Ronald Reagan negotiated to keep the Iran hostages captive until he could be elected President, again, as a tool to be used against his tribal enemies. Any hostage so betrayed would claim such conduct should cost a President his job, and the principal argument would be as an example to deter future cultural degradation of the office. An office now degraded to the point where I can barely keep to my keyboard over ironic laughter. Ronald Reagan also defied a law in order to fuel a civil war, again, ruining hundreds of thousands of lives.

  • George W. Bush twisted intelligence beyond all shape and recognition to launch the Iraq invasion, and destabilized the whole Middle East (already the most volatile region of the world). This was terribly bloody for the Iraqis, bloody and hideously expensive for us (while at the same time setting a new gold standard for ineffectuality). This set off the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, which to this day undermines the liberal order underpinning the European Union, and is a huge factor in its possible dissolution. Congress went right along with the President’s illegal invasion. There is a legal concept of “ignorantia juris non excusat”, yet the most powerful lawyers in the world never did their required due diligence in reviewing the facts needed to justify an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation in defiance of international law (“international law is flawed!” we touted as we wrecked Iraq, schizophrenically proving international law’s point).

  • Barack Obama did much the same when he helped Europe destroy Libya for its own betterment. Due diligence was once again negligent in evaluating the intelligence that predicated the attack that led to regime change. Before our involvement, Libya had a high-functioning (though bizarre) state, by Middle Eastern standards ). It is now a Road-Warrior hellscape which radiates banditry into the lands of its neighbor, Mali, (the poorest nation on the planet (requiring yet another intervention, this one French)), and refugees into Europe, straining the liberal underpinnings of the largest bloc of human-rights-respecting nations on the planet.

Presidents over the last half century have bombed over a dozen nations without congressional approval, without a declaration of war, and without any challenge to the implications of a Presidential death-drone zap on the say-so of an opaque threat assessment panel. We are told to just trust in their judgement, as we are expected to forget about the rotten fruits of the process, and judgement, that brought us to this bloody, expensive, and ineffectual pass.

This open-ended power has us waging war in 80 countries. This is illegal by the international law whose order we have sacrificed so much to establish and maintain. Supra-legal killing of government-declared terrorists is a concept which has never been enshrined in any international law or procedure.

So, as night follows day, it is now a tool co-opted by the likes of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, Russia in Chechnya, and Ukraine. China uses the slogan against their Muslim Uighur minority, sending over a million of them to re-education camps. Bashir Assad covers his crimes with the banner as he dismembers his country, and the Burmese wave it as they hound Muslim Rohinga from their homes, and chase them into Bangladesh, itself one of the poorest and least resilient nations in the world.

This all, despite the fact that deaths from [terrorism are vanishingly rare (to those fighting the “war on terror” rather than receiving it, anyway). This all amounts to a radically bloody, likely illegal, solution for a minuscule, outlier problem (more Americans have been killed by falling furniture than transnational terrorism).

Any of these episodes would put a President in the Nuremberg trials dock, whose main charge was one of waging aggressive war, most definitely a “High Crime” (I argues it’s the “highest crime”). The Nuremberg precedent might have been used to build a principle of international human rights clarity, had its principal upholder not also been its principal debaucher. Yet we have never even have a conversation about sending a President off to lucrative book-touring, university-professorship, lobby-continuance, foundation-raising retirement.

Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people needlessly, ineffectually, permanently dead; not impeached. Cum-stained dress and political spying; impeached (and today’s electronic spying issues should make that one seem positively quaint). But there it is again: the crime is not a concern for the people. The crime is the concern of the political tribe, and is therefore worthy.

The conclusion must be: impeachment is only tribal politics by other means. Presidents have a magic immunity to consequences in pursuit of war, no matter the cause, no matter the cost.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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