Impeachment: An American History, by Jon Meacham, Peter Baker, Timothy Naftali, and Jeffrey A. Engel (Re-post)

Nine stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #23 (a re-read) in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

The term ‘impeachment’ has taken on a life of its own, particularly in the American political system. It has been bandied about numerous times, by legislators and media alike, to add fuel to a fire when an individual in a position of authority appears to stray from their constitutionally-permitted role. While many federal positions use impeachment to remove the office holder, only the three men who held the position of President of the United States (POTUS) are discussed in the essays that comprise this collection, along with some sentiments about potential future impeachment, based on the furor that appears to be growing. The scholars who penned these essays offer their own insights into the events that led to impeachment proceedings, or the potential of them. Jeffrey Engel offers the reader a primer on the basis of impeachment and how it found its way into the US Constitution, including the struggles the Founding Father’s faced when outlining the rules surrounding qualification and its use by Congress. As with with much within the US Constitution, the rules are vague and open to interpretation. Thereafter, Jon Meacham opens with an essay on the impeachment process of Andrew Johnson, the first POTUS to be thrust into this political drama. Strongly against Reconstruction after the Civil War and having been handed the job when Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson was vilified by many and it took three attempts to bring forth Articles of Impeachment before any would pass, tossing the case to the Senate. Johnson was firm in his beliefs and used southern sentiment to have the case fall a single vote short, in what Meacham aptly calls a ‘partisan impeachment’. One hundred years later, new impeachment threats were levied against Richard Nixon, in an essay penned by presidential historian Timothy Naftali. Arguing that it was not the Watergate break-in, but the cover-up and firing of the independent special prosecutor that pushed Nixon into the firing line, Naftali contrasts this situation with that of Johnson. While there was a strong partisan push for impeachment, Republicans joined the Democrats to call for Nixon’s removal, thereby creating the bipartisan momentum lacking in Meacham’s earlier essay. Naftali develops a wonderfully detailed narrative to expose the developing process whereby Congress took steps to rid themselves of a ‘crook’, though the man was able to read the tea leaves and left when hope seemed all but lost. Peter Baker takes up the torch in examining Bill Clinton’s actions, culminating in 1997-1998, which led to numerous Articles coming from the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. While some would deem the entire situation salacious, Baker explores how perjury by a sitting president could push the realms of acceptable and lead some to draw parallels to the rule-breaking that Nixon did at will. Executive Privilge became the buzzword, leaving the Special Prosecutor and some within the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee to launch into a form of witch hunt with the intent of embarrassing Clinton as he had America on the world scene. With a partisan split during Article voting, Clinton’s impeachment went to the Senate, the first in the era of television. Such drama evolved on screen, much like the trial of OI.J. Simpson did five years before. In the end, both sides agreed that substantiating the impeachment claims were never intended, but rather a wrap on the knuckles. As Jeffrey Engel returns to conclude, one must look at present circumstances to decide if impeachment is worthwhile, though it is surely not an act to be taken lightly. As is argued throughout, impeachment is a political, not legal, tool. It is also defined as whatever the majority of House members choose it to be. While many wait to see if Articles will come, now that the Democrats have control of the House, it should not be the central focus of the country’s legislators. At least for the time being, one has to worry about keeping the ship on course, as it enters murky waters. Highly recommended to those readers who enjoy political discussion and historical analysis of events, as poignant today as when they occurred.

There is no doubt that impeachment has been on the lips of many, especially since the Russia probe has begun to gain momentum. One need only look at publications of tomes and essays released since 2016 to see how many academics have weighed in already. Understanding the process is as important and the end result, something that the layperson in America may not fully comprehend. Impeachment, as is seen through the three central essays in the collection, as well as an introduction and conclusion, is a messy business that divides both along party and political lines. The three men whose names have come up in impeachment proceedings did something sever enough that the Founding Father’s might have agreed with the use of this stop-gap measure to keep America great, though it was the interpretation at each instance that led to different approaches to the same set of vague constitutional rules. While impeachment is a weapon used to threaten regularly, few holders of the Oval Office have had their names dragged through the constitutional mud. Why is that? Likely a heightened degree of seriousness that accompanies the threat, as well as the difficulty to enact it—which is not altogether a bad thing! Interested readers can bask in the details offered in this collection, as well as the poignant arguments made as threats of impeachment surface again. Is there enough to bring Articles? Would the Senate support it? While things tend to be political when it comes to Congress, the reader can decide for themselves, after receiving the plethora of information found in this book. The essays are not only penned by scholars, but they are easily digested, allowing the lay reader to fully comprehend the issues at hand. This is essential in an era where media spoon-feed the electorate at every opportunity. I await news from the Special Prosecutor and how the White House will react to it. That may—and precedent shows that it will—prove either the last nail in the coffin or used to disperse discussion until November 2020, when the electorate can speak with democratic voices. That being said, there remains a question as to how fair that venture might be. However, that is a discussion for another scholarly tome.

Kudos, Messrs Engel, Meacham, Naftali, and Baker, for this insightful piece. I learned so much and understand the system a lot better now. These insider explorations of events, left out of the history books, has helped me create a more grounded opinion on whether impeachment should rear its head again soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, by Jon Meacham (afterward by John Lewis)

Nine stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #1 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

The name of John Robert Lewis is one that is fairly new to me, though I have come to realise that this man was more than a feisty congressman who sought to fight against the injustices he saw in America. Jon Meacham, one of the best political/presidential biographers I have had the pleasure of reading, chose Lewis in his latest book exploring how American history and politics go hand in hand. Born to a large family in Troy, Alabama, John Lewis developed a passion for the Lord, as well as for the spoken word. He took as his first congregation the flock of chickens on his family farm, though few would so much as listen to him, as Meacham extols in the early part of the book. From there, Lewis sought to educate himself on the ways of becoming closer to God, while also living under some oppressive laws governing the southern states at the time. In the late 1950s, as Lewis was finishing high school and fighting to uphold the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the US Supreme Court, he met a young Martin Luther King, Jr. and became mesmerised by all this boisterous preacher had to say. Lewis soon began a life that was not only dedicated to the teachings of Jesus, but for the non-violent means by which King sought to change the laws in the United States as it related to the treatment of Blacks. Meacham explores in-depth the violent ways that Lewis, King, and many others were treated during the bus boycotts, sit-ins, and marches, culminating in the (in)famous one in Selma, Alabama. Lewis suffered many injuries, including a fractured skull, during his years seeking justice and yet he would not back down, nor would he raise a fist to his White oppressors. Meacham tells the story in much detail, offering interesting perspectives from political and social leaders on both sides of the civil rights movement, all of whom knew John Lewis well. Even when Lewis took a step back from the movement, he was passionate about protecting Black rights in the United States. He mourned the loss of King in 1968 and sought to make changes when he moved to Atlanta. Finally successful in winning a seat in the US House of Representatives in 1986, Lewis used his voice to push for change, not only in Atlanta, but for people all across the country, never forgetting the need to put the rights of Blacks into all legislation. In the closing portion of the book, Meacham touches on Lewis’ sentiments during the recent political goings-on, including the Trump inauguration and impeachment proceedings, two events Lewis used to state his strong opinions in non-violent and anti-vitriolic means. Most telling of all, when Lewis passed away in July 2020, and many on both sides of the political spectrum flocked to pay their respects to a leader in America’s civil rights movement, President Trump refused to do so. While no surprise to many, one would have hoped that, like Lewis, Trump might have looked past politics and looked to the core of the man. A sensational piece that permits Jon Meacham to offer not only a mini-biography of John Lewis, but also provide a biographical outlook of the civil rights movement, the earlier push for the importance of Black lives in America. A must read for all those who love learning about American political history, and strongly recommended for anyone who looks out at America today and has yet to cast their ballot for president.

Even though I knew little about John Lewis, as soon as I discovered that this book would touch on American civil rights in the 1960s, I was firmly committed to tackling it. When I found out that Jon Meacham was at the helm, there was no doubt that I would take the time to read this book and discover all that I could. Meacham handles the story with aplomb, pulling out many of the well-known stories about abuse at lunch counters, riots outside bus stations, and the marches that turned bloody as soon as the police arrived on scene. Meacham adds the voices of those from both sides of the movement, not only the protestors, to give the reader a more complete view. The White House message, the gubernatorial declarations, the police views, and even the general public, as well as the prayers and proclamations of King, Lewis, and others who sought to rally Blacks to stand up for themselves, but turned the other cheek. There is wonderful contrast in the book as well with the violent movement of the Black Panthers and Malcolm X as they sought to strike and kill in retaliation to push for Black rights. Meacham never strays from his message, which seeks to explore the mindset of John Lewis, and divides the book into key chapters according to timelines, all of which help to better hash out America’ reaction to the non-violence in the 1960s. I kept thinking to myself, if Meacham could do so well with this, a snapshot of Lewis’ life, how wonderful it would be to see a complete exploration of the man into the 1970s and through to his death in 2020. One can only hope that someone will pick up from here and ensure young people know those pioneers that came before them to make America great, even if bigotry remains simmering on the back burner. Meacham almost begs the reader to draw parallels between the 1960s and today, as violence seeks to divide the country again. Perhaps, like Lewis and King, Americans can choose the non-violent means of pushing back, by casting an all-important ballot for president in 2020. Don’t let the blood be shed in vain!

Kudos, Mr. Meacham, for sparking my passion in US politics and social movements. I cannot wait to see what else you find to explore, as you educate readers so effectively.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Impeachment: An American History, by Jeffrey A. Engel, Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, and Peter Baker

Nine stars

The term ‘impeachment’ has taken on a life of its own, particularly in the American political system. It has been bandied about numerous times, by legislators and media alike, to add fuel to a fire when an individual in a position of authority appears to stray from their constitutionally-permitted role. While many federal positions use impeachment to remove the office holder, only the three men who held the position of President of the United States (POTUS) are discussed in the essays that comprise this collection, along with some sentiments about potential future impeachment, based on the furor that appears to be growing. The scholars who penned these essays offer their own insights into the events that led to impeachment proceedings, or the potential of them. Jeffrey Engel offers the reader a primer on the basis of impeachment and how it found its way into the US Constitution, including the struggles the Founding Father’s faced when outlining the rules surrounding qualification and its use by Congress. As with with much within the US Constitution, the rules are vague and open to interpretation. Thereafter, Jon Meacham opens with an essay on the impeachment process of Andrew Johnson, the first POTUS to be thrust into this political drama. Strongly against Reconstruction after the Civil War and having been handed the job when Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson was vilified by many and it took three attempts to bring forth Articles of Impeachment before any would pass, tossing the case to the Senate. Johnson was firm in his beliefs and used southern sentiment to have the case fall a single vote short, in what Meacham aptly calls a ‘partisan impeachment’. One hundred years later, new impeachment threats were levied against Richard Nixon, in an essay penned by presidential historian Timothy Naftali. Arguing that it was not the Watergate break-in, but the cover-up and firing of the independent special prosecutor that pushed Nixon into the firing line, Naftali contrasts this situation with that of Johnson. While there was a strong partisan push for impeachment, Republicans joined the Democrats to call for Nixon’s removal, thereby creating the bipartisan momentum lacking in Meacham’s earlier essay. Naftali develops a wonderfully detailed narrative to expose the developing process whereby Congress took steps to rid themselves of a ‘crook’, though the man was able to read the tea leaves and left when hope seemed all but lost. Peter Baker takes up the torch in examining Bill Clinton’s actions, culminating in 1997-1998, which led to numerous Articles coming from the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. While some would deem the entire situation salacious, Baker explores how perjury by a sitting president could push the realms of acceptable and lead some to draw parallels to the rule-breaking that Nixon did at will. Executive Privilge became the buzzword, leaving the Special Prosecutor and some within the Republican controlled House Judiciary Committee to launch into a form of witch hunt with the intent of embarrassing Clinton as he had America on the world scene. With a partisan split during Article voting, Clinton’s impeachment went to the Senate, the first in the era of television. Such drama evolved on screen, much like the trial of OI.J. Simpson did five years before. In the end, both sides agreed that substantiating the impeachment claims were never intended, but rather a wrap on the knuckles. As Jeffrey Engel returns to conclude, one must look at present circumstances to decide if impeachment is worthwhile, though it is surely not an act to be taken lightly. As is argued throughout, impeachment is a political, not legal, tool. It is also defined as whatever the majority of House members choose it to be. While many wait to see if Articles will come, now that the Democrats have control of the House, it should not be the central focus of the country’s legislators. At least for the time being, one has to worry about keeping the ship on course, as it enters murky waters. Highly recommended to those readers who enjoy political discussion and historical analysis of events, as poignant today as when they occurred.

There is no doubt that impeachment has been on the lips of many, especially since the Russia probe has begun to gain momentum. One need only look at publications of tomes and essays released since 2016 to see how many academics have weighed in already. Understanding the process is as important and the end result, something that the layperson in America may not fully comprehend. Impeachment, as is seen through the three central essays in the collection, as well as an introduction and conclusion, is a messy business that divides both along party and political lines. The three men whose names have come up in impeachment proceedings did something sever enough that the Founding Father’s might have agreed with the use of this stop-gap measure to keep America great, though it was the interpretation at each instance that led to different approaches to the same set of vague constitutional rules. While impeachment is a weapon used to threaten regularly, few holders of the Oval Office have had their names dragged through the constitutional mud. Why is that? Likely a heightened degree of seriousness that accompanies the threat, as well as the difficulty to enact it—which is not altogether a bad thing! Interested readers can bask in the details offered in this collection, as well as the poignant arguments made as threats of impeachment surface again. Is there enough to bring Articles? Would the Senate support it? While things tend to be political when it comes to Congress, the reader can decide for themselves, after receiving the plethora of information found in this book. The essays are not only penned by scholars, but they are easily digested, allowing the lay reader to fully comprehend the issues at hand. This is essential in an era where media spoon-feed the electorate at every opportunity. I await news from the Special Prosecutor and how the White House will react to it. That may—and precedent shows that it will—prove either the last nail in the coffin or used to disperse discussion until November 2020, when the electorate can speak with democratic voices. That being said, there remains a question as to how fair that venture might be. However, that is a discussion for another scholarly tome.

Kudos, Messrs Engel, Meacham, Naftali, and Baker, for this insightful piece. I learned so much and understand the system a lot better now. These insider explorations of events, left out of the history books, has helped me create a more grounded opinion on whether impeachment should rear its head again soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons