The soul of impeachment

November 19th, 2019

As the public phase of the impeachment process begins, nothing is more certain than this: it will occur in a whirlwind of confusion, fueled to a great degree by political partisanship that will seek to frame the matter along party lines. But the fact is, as some are willing to admit, the impeachment process itself is not defined or directed by partisanship — or at least was not originally designed to be so. Impeachment is an indication of something much larger — a sign not only that laws may have been violated, but that our national character may have been compromised.

It is in this dimension where we see that at its core, impeachment is about the soul of our nation, not merely its laws. It is about the morality of a president not just his methodology. Of course, the process moves on the assessment of law and order. But it is an evaluation of law and order based on a deeper sense of what is good for our country, and whether or not we have the will to hold the president accountable for personifying that goodness. The presidential oath of office can be subject to legality with respect to a particular president’s fidelity to it, but the oath itself is a statement of character and a president’s promise to uphold it.

Jon Meacham writes about this in the current issue of Time magazine. [1] But he is not the first to do so. President Harry Truman, for example, saw the need for the nation to periodically correct itself. Impeachment operates in that context with respect to the president. It is a process, as Meacham notes, of honoring something in our national life and expecting the president to do so as well.

So, as we watch the impeachment process unfold, let’s keep in mind that while the immediate context is whether the president has committed an impeachable offense, the long-term consideration is, “What kind of nation would we become if we allowed our president to behave this way?” The impeachment process is ultimately about the trajectory that a president’s behavior sets and the message it sends. Impeachment is ultimately about what becomes of our national soul.

[1] John Meacham, “A National Test,” Time, November 14, 2019, pp. 34-38.

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