In his latest column, Michael Gerson noted that future historians will be “horrified” by Donald Trump’s antics. As it turns out, we may not need to wait: contemporary historians have a problem with the Republican president, too. The Washington Post reported overnight:
A group of more than 700 historians, legal scholars and others published an open letter Monday urging the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump, denouncing his conduct as “a clear and present danger to the Constitution.” […]
In the letter, the scholars criticize Trump’s “numerous and flagrant abuses of power” and state that his actions “urgently and justly require his impeachment.”
The full document, which is online here, was published by the non-profit advocacy group Protect Democracy. It went on to note, “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…. It is our considered judgment that if President Trump’s misconduct does not rise to the level of impeachment, then virtually nothing does.”
As I type, the document has been endorsed by 752 scholars, including a variety of figures well known to the public, including Ken Burns, Robert Caro, Ron Chernow, Jon Meacham, Sean Wilentz, and Brenda Wineapple.
It also comes on the heels of a related effort from over 750 legal scholars who concluded that Trump is guilty of “impeachable conduct,” and who added, “His conduct is precisely the type of threat to our democracy that the Founders feared when they included the remedy of impeachment in the Constitution.”
In theory, lawmakers charged with assessing the seriousness of Trump’s misconduct should value the judgment of the nation’s leading scholars, and this is especially true of those who keep turning to history as a guide.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), for example, has leaned on history more than once in recent weeks, suggesting the impeachment effort against Donald Trump is somehow at odds with the American tradition.
As the impeachment process advanced, McCarthy told reporters, “This is the day that Alexander Hamilton feared and warned would come…. It’s not a day that history will be proud of.”
It’s against this backdrop that actual historians, with credentials and years of expertise, set the record straight on Hamilton and impeachment:
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.” […]
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 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. We therefore strongly urge the House of Representatives to impeach the President.
Here’s hoping McCarthy has an opportunity to learn from the scholars’ lesson.