Historians recommend impeachment to protect Constitution
To the editor:
I join the more than 2,000 American historians, devoted to studying our nation’s past, who have concluded that Donald J. Trump has violated his oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His “attempts to subvert the Constitution,” as George Mason described impeachable offenses at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, urgently and justly require his impeachment and his removal from office by the United States Senate.
President Trump’s numerous and flagrant abuses of power are precisely what the Framers had in mind as grounds for impeaching and removing a president. Among those most hurtful to the Constitution have been his attempts to coerce the country of Ukraine, under attack from Russia, an adversary power to the United States, by withholding essential military assistance in exchange for the fabrication and legitimization of false information in order to advance his own reelection.
President Trump’s lawless obstruction of the House of Representatives, which is rightly seeking documents and witness testimony in pursuit of its constitutionally mandated oversight role, has demonstrated brazen contempt for representative government and the separation of powers established in our Constitution. So have his attempts to justify that obstruction on the grounds that the executive enjoys absolute immunity, a fictitious doctrine that, if tolerated, would turn the president into an elected monarch above the law — contrary to the spirit of the brave patriots who risked their lives and fortunes for independence from Great Britain, and in flagrant violation of the very Constitution that their struggle enabled to be created.
As Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist, impeachment was designed to deal with “the misconduct of public men,” which involves “the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Collectively, the president’s offenses, including his dereliction in protecting the integrity of the 2020 election from Russian disinformation and renewed interference, arouse once again the Framers’ most profound fears that powerful members of government would become, in Hamilton’s words, “the mercenary instruments of foreign corruption.”
It is my considered judgment, and the judgment of more than 2,000 historians, that if President Trump’s misconduct does not rise to the level of impeachment, and removal from office, then virtually nothing does.
Hamilton understood, as he wrote in 1792, that the republic remained vulnerable to the rise of an unscrupulous demagogue, “unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents…despotic in his ordinary demeanour.” That demagogue, Hamilton said, could easily enough manage “to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join in the cry of danger to liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion — to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day.” Such a figure, Hamilton wrote, would “throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’”
President Trump’s actions committed both before and during the House investigations, and continuing today, fit Hamilton’s description and manifest utter and deliberate scorn for the rule of law and “repeated injuries” to constitutional democracy. That disregard continues and it constitutes a clear and present danger to the Constitution. Therefore I join historians from around the United States who urge strongly all senators to conduct a fair and impartial trial of the president, with witnesses present, and, if necessary, remove him from office.
Justin F. Jackson
The writer is assistant professor of history at Bard College at Simon’s Rock.