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.