First of all, I can’t quite believe my title. Impeachments should be vanishingly rare. The fact that there have been two in my lifetime is extraordinary. I was twenty-three when the House of Representatives impeached Bill Clinton. I’m forty-four as they impeach Donald Trump. It’s crazy how different the two situations feel.
I know that the two impeachments have quite a bit in common, starting with the fact that both presidents did what Congress said they did. Regardless of what the word “is” is, Clinton lied. Trump bragged about asking Ukraine for dirt on the Bidens. Also, with both of them, it never felt like removal from office was a real possibility. It’s more about the spectacle than the result. And, with both of them, we knew what we were getting when they got elected. I don’t think anyone was surprised by Clinton’s philandering, nor do I think anyone’s shocked by Trump’s abuse of power.
So why do they feel so different? The obvious answer is that one is a Democrat while the other is a Republican. I don’t think that’s the real reason, though. Half of it is the difference in the crimes themselves. Clinton was impeached for cheating on his wife with an intern in the Oval Office. That makes him a terrible husband, a terrible father, and a pretty terrible human being. But it really says very little about him as a president. I’m sure Trump is a terrible person, too. But that’s not why he’s being impeached. Trump is being impeached for abusing the power of the presidency. That’s all about him as a president.
I think the other half of why this feels different is simply because the political climate has changed. Hatred, actual real live hatred, is much more prevalent now than it was twenty years ago. Sure, the Republicans hated Bill Clinton, but it wasn’t the same kind of hate. It was hate like the way I hate the Yankees. With the election of Obama, hate took over the Republican party. Obama was popular enough to keep it at a simmer, but with Trump it’s boiling over. Hate is now the driving force in American politics. The left hates the right, the right hates the left, and they both hate the center. Hate is what got Trump elected in the first place.
I know I’ve already talked about two halves, but there is a tiny bit more to the difference. Both impeachments are continuations of the damage caused by Nixon which turned every election into a power grab. In Clinton’s case, it was Congress testing their limits, seeing what they could get away with. In Trump’s case, it is the president testing his limits, seeing what he can get away with. With Clinton’s acquittal, we found a limit. With Trump’s probably acquittal, we lack a limit. I have nothing but a sense of dread as to how much further this can go.