Impeaching the Cadaver

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.Article II, Section 4

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.Article I, Section 3.

If Donald Trump is doomed to endure a second ordeal of impeachment proceedings, what are we to expect?  The plain sense of these two passages seems to indicate that, first, the paramount and exemplary crimes for which a President may be impeached and removed are treason and bribery.  It is true that any overt attempt to incite insurrection would certainly be put on par with treason, ill-advised or even reckless statements that might be misinterpreted would seem to fall well outside the parameters.

In the media, it is taken for granted that impeachment and removal from office would automatically bar a former official from holding any office.  What the Constitution actually says is that punishment cannot extend any further than removal from office and “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”  The bar, thus, would not apply to state and local offices but only the positions in the Federal government.

What does the Constitution say about impeachment of an official not holding office?  Absolutely nothing, and for the obvious reason that the point of impeachment is to remove someone from office.  The alleged crimes of a former official would have to be tried in a regular court, instead of the kangaroo court of the United States Senate.

As Lindsay Graham, in an isolated fit of lucidity, observed:  They might just as well go on to impeach George Washington for the “crime” of owning a slave.  To be more practical, the Democrats could certainly, on the same principle they are using for their impeachment of a former President, go after George W. Bush—which they would never do, because he was never their opponent—or Richard Nixon, whose resignation cheated them of the opportunity to impeach and remove him.

As absurd as this whole affair has already become, there are a few things to be learned from it.  The most obvious lesson is something everyone should have already known, namely, that Mitch McConnell is a willing tool of whatever forces are in control.  He might, in order to hold onto an office, pretend to be a loyal member of his party, but that is just one of the games he has played his entire life.

A more serious lesson is that Trump, for all his manifest foolishness, did in fact scare the pants off the leaders of both wings of the two-party state.  It is not enough to prevent his reelection by all means fair or foul.  He must be blotted out from the national consciousness as thoroughly as the memory of Robert E. Lee or Bedford Forrest. 

It is, perhaps, unwise of them to reveal so much weakness at the very moment they have regained so much power.  I am not even sure that their victory is due to cheating, and if it were, the fault lies with the Republicans who preferred to lose an election if they could get rid of Trump.  But I think the Democrats would prefer to cheat their way into office--it requires more skill.  My father in his youth had played cards for fairly high stakes, and he used to say that a professional gambler would rather win by cheating, because any sucker might have a lucky night, but the gambler relied on his own skill.

But the most important lesson in this impeachment fracas is the ugly reality of the American character.  It has been a long time since anyone has ever seriously spoken of “American civilization,” but few Americans are willing to admit that some decades ago we entered a Dark Age of barbaric violence and anti-intellectual obscurantism, when the old principles of British and American law were replaced by irrational criteria of status—race, sex, gender—and the popular understanding of science and philosophy was reduced to the silliest credulity and basest superstitions.  

Whatever else the panics over Global Warming, Global Cooling, AIDS, COVID, and the evil dragons of White Supremacy may reveal, it should be obvious to any rational observer we Americans are now openly a nation of childish barbarians.  We deride our Christianized barbarian ancestors who lived in The Dark Age, but we refuse to see that our own time, neither illuminated by revelation nor inspired by the crumbling ruins of tradition,  is far  darker than the early Middle Ages.

Pope Formosus, who in his five year pontificate had made himself unpopular, died in 896.  His successor, who only lasted 25 days, was replaced by Stephen VI, a tool of the Pope’s enemy Count Guido of Spoleto.  Stephen had Formosus disinterred, put on trial, and condemned.  His acts were annulled, ordinations declared invalid, vestments stripped off, and the three fingers used in the papal blessing cut off, and the body was thrown into the Tiber. 

We should give Count Guido and his flunkeys the credit of a gaudy exultation in their victory.  The Democrats and Republicans will have to content themselves with a drabber form of damnatio memoriae. 

The Ninth Century was also an age of revenge, and Formosus’ mistreatment was avenged by his partisans who strangled Stephen a few months after the “Cadaver Synod.”  All Mitch McConnell has to face are a few unkind words from Rush Limbaugh and Tucker Carlson.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

18 Responses

  1. Gregory Fogg says:

    Impeachment and conviction do not automatically prevent a person from holding high federal office. The despicable Alcee Hastings, while a federal district court judge, was impeached ( I think for bribery ) by the House, convicted by the Senate and removed from office. Although it was within their power to do so, they did not specifically and explicitly bar him from further office. He is now of course, in the House, in a Florida seat that was gerrymandered to insure that a member of his race will always win that district. He will hold that seat as long as he wants it, Nonetheless, the only reason for this new procedure is to try to prevent DJP from ever holding any federal office ( president, ambassador ) again.

  2. theAlabamian says:

    Great picture Dr. Fleming. I wish people would concentrate on their local and state governments more than the federal elections. For instance the recent Senate race in Alabama really did not offer us a great choice in either candidate. I wish able, wise, truly Southern men would rise up and run for office, but then are there any who exist that have the social popularity that seems to be needed ? I do not necessarily think a third party is the answer, but necessary because I view Democrat and Republican as so dirty, that no decent man would really want to be associated with their values. I get that people feel they have no choice, but the fact no choice is there is pretty discouraging. I think we should resist all we can, and that the record of that is important to future generations in and of itself even if we are not successful now, future generations need to see we did not willingly go along with big government, crony capitalism, or socialism, and that we do not support empire/imperialism. For example, we should force the government to draft if it come to it, that way the record bares witness that we did not willingly go and destroy people on the other side of the planet to make money for defense contractors, and a federal pension.

  3. theAlabamian says:

    *”bears witness”

  4. JD Salyer says:

    Dr Fleming’s allusion to weakness touches on a related question: Is it just me, or did that inauguration not exactly project an image of strength and confidence to the world?

  5. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Thanks for the accurate observation, Jerry. As for the bar on holding office, yes it is not automatic, though if Mitch and his Democratic allies push it through, they would undoubtedly make the stipulation. Hastings is, by the way, a hilarious parody of corrupt Reconstruction politicians. He is clearly the invention of the KKK.

  6. Vince Cornell says:

    Given the craven character of the American people of today, it doesn’t take much of a show of strength to keep us cowed. In the land of wimps, even a senile and decrepit old man can be king. Given the recent spate of executive orders weaponizing COVID as the means by which to move from the Federal Government “regulating” everything to outright controlling everything, it makes me think they won’t be too weak for too long, either. Certainly it seems like everyone and his brother on CNN, PBS, and the like is happily talking up Reeducation Camps for the 75+ million in the Trump Cult. I did hear a clip of Pelosi and Hillary Clinton yukking it up on a podcast together, and still pushing the old canard of Trump being Putin’s Puppet . . . Pelosi, Biden, Clinton, Harris, Ocasio-Cortez, McConnell, Romney . . . truly we are being lead by the dumbest people on earth right now. Trump almost looks like an intellectual standing next to these people. Dark Ages indeed.
    On another note, I wonder if McConnell didn’t miscalculate this time around. It seems there is genuine anger and disgust amongst the Ever Trumpers, and they have no interest at all in turning out to support the Republican Party after it ditched their last and only champion. I would predict the Dems cement their control of both houses in 2022, unless McConnell gets them to throw some of that sweet, sweet election fraud his way to help out his buddies. Not that I’ve heard any of his songs since High School (in Montgomery, being able to sing “Friends in Low Places” was practically a prerequisite to all social circles), but folks are even angry with Garth Brooks for daring to sing at the Biden inauguration. Maybe he should have performed as Chris Gaines, instead.

  7. Robert Reavis says:

    Mr Cornell,
    Unfortunately the tattoos are well into the second generation. It is the least of our worries but also evidence of the length, depth and width of the cultural transformation when the doctors and nurses giving vaccines in our nations nursing and assisted living centers are comparing “tats” with those of their patients, college professors with their students and sports fans with those of their favorite players. Caesar was wise to halt the expansion campaigns when the adversary started painting their faces blue.

  8. Robert Geraci says:

    All well said and the spotlight on the problem is stated: “Whatever else the panics over Global Warming, Global Cooling, AIDS, COVID, and the evil dragons of White Supremacy may reveal, it should be obvious to any rational observer we Americans are now openly a nation of childish barbarians.” The knowledge base of our society is gone and while we existed perhaps on fumes for awhile which might have masked the depth of how dire that loss was, it is now clear as a bell that the average man on the street is dumb as a stump. There exists no context for mature conversation because maturity is now a relic. The irony of lack of knowledge is the arrogance it engenders in the person with such lack because such a person is incapable of knowing what he doesn’t know. The exact definition of a child.

  9. Robert Geraci says:

    With this theme of the movement towards childishness defining the psyche of Americans, might it be that the almost uniform adoration for the Biden/Haden triumph by young people (it is overwhelming their support and the tearful gratitude they exhibit) serves a pathological need? It ought to strike one as odd that young people would gravitate towards the side that promises control over people’s lives, being told what to do and for all to be treated in the same controlling way. Young people would normally be expected to rebel fiercely against such authority. But they are doing the exact opposite. They are the fiercest proponents of always wearing masks and proudly changing their lifestyles in being willingly compliant in not going out to bars and restaurants for example or all the other things they used to do. This is a generation raised without any moral absolutes and literally, for a great number of these individuals, they were raised without intact mother/father families, or at the very least without parents who were at home raising their children instead of sending them to daycare, etc. Might their slavish adoration for Biden with his authoritarian approach be appealing to these lost young souls as their finding the strong parent they never had?

  10. theAlabamian says:

    I really like this “few Americans are willing to admit that some decades ago we entered a Dark Age of barbaric violence and anti-intellectual obscurantism, when the old principles of British and American law were replaced by irrational criteria of status—race, sex, gender—and the popular understanding of science and philosophy was reduced to the silliest credulity and basest superstitions.” I am learning that the term “racism” isn’t a description of immorality but simply a weapon.

  11. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    The infantilization of America may have started as early as the period after WW I–the silly Jazz Age–but the Baby Boomers marked a great step in the wrong direction. I straddled the beginning of the Boomers, and noticed that college boys a year or two older than me were men before they reached the age of 20, the students my age were struggling, and the kids only a year or two younger were goofballs who would never grow up. I remember a freshman when I was a student. He had taken Harpo Marx as a role model. This is in SC! What in the world were his parents thinking? After the Boomers, the Gen-Xers and Millennials are all perpetual children, BUT BUT BUT, they all claim to be wild and free individualists who made themselves. How does that Blues line. “It’s God that made you, ain’t nobody made hisself.” Those who read an early version of my chapter, “The Disappearing Individual” will recall the analysis there of the paradox of spoiled and dependent children proclaiming their individuality. We’re doing final proof-reading of the whole v0lume, which should be read, if I can find someone to help with a cover design. The book has been beautifully type-set.

  12. Vince Cornell says:

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons the zombie trope is so enduring? It’s been over 20 years and zombies still seem to hold the prime spot for modern monsters. (sparkling, broody teen vampires were but a distraction with no lasting impression) With Biden being elected president and millions of his supporters milling around in the stores with masks over their faces and millions of other “true patriots” and QAnon’ers clamoring for Trump to retake the Presidency even now through some absurd procedural and legal judo throw . . . I can see why destruction by brainless hordes would be the most feared of fates.
    Is the title of the upcoming book still “Properties of Blood”? And what of Anterus Smith? Is Chad Rayson to blame for its delay?

  13. Jacob Johnson says:

    Q, supposedly an inside leaker, is obviously inauthentic because when there is a real inside leaker, as in the case of William Binney for example, once they’ve made the leak, the powers that be know where it came from and they plug it, that person is found out. They’re not allowed to continue to make the leaks. If Q was real he would have been purged long ago.

  14. Jacob Johnson says:

    Finding out who makes the Q stuff would be a rather more productive use of time for the “conservative movement” than election investigations. Somebody who lies to you is a greater villain than somebody steals, assuming that is the case, which I do not spend my time investigating.

  15. Dom says:

    Mr. Cornell,
    I have thought the same thing about all the zombie stuff. My guess is that people relate to total alienation.

  16. Dot says:

    We are living through the reincarnation of the 1960s. The 1960s saw the revolt for free speech from U Cal- Berkley and it appears that now free speech is being curtailed by high tech out California way especially against Trump; Martin L. King debuted with his “I have a dream speech” and the Civil Rights movement and the NAACP was born. There was the issue of blacks sitting at the back of the bus and being unable to drink water from a fountain used by whites. Betty Frieden freed women from the home when she published Feminist Mystique; John Kennedy won out over J. Edgar Hoover as Biden over Trump. There was a serious uprising at Kent State. That decade was jumping. Perhaps Dr. Wilson can write a column on this time period.

  17. Dot says:

    P.S. I mustn’t forget the Vietnam War.

  18. Dot says:

    P.P.S. And I am remiss in not adding to this tumultuous time the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.