Impeachment and The Arrogance of ‘History is Watching’
As soon as the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump, Democratic politicians and assorted pro-impeachment journalists and commentators immediately demanded that the Senate hear from additional witnesses, mainly John Bolton. If they did not, history would remember them negatively.
Not unexpectedly, Senate Republicans said no. Republicans declined to call for more witnesses in part because of the contradictory assertion that the House’s case was ironclad and the basic political fact that Republicans weren’t likely to be persuaded by the concern trolling of “history is watching” from people predisposed to not like them.
Maybe history will remember Republicans negatively, but anybody claiming that right now is just being a political partisan. History is full of people who were condemned in the moment and later assessed to have made the right judgement.
It is possible, though highly unlikely, that between now and Election Day some bombshell comes out that says not only did Trump tie aid to Ukraine to investigations, because that in and of itself is not enough to justify abuse of power, but that he told Bolton or somebody else that the only reason for doing so was because he wanted to sink Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
In that scenario, Republicans will suffer political consequences and will be a blot on their legacies.
It also possible, however, and far more likely, that at some point in the not-so-distant future a Republican House impeaches a Democratic president for abuse of power and or obstruction of Congress. The Democratic president and his or her defenders will say that there is a legitimate, or at least, alternative explanation that could be said to be in the national interest and Republicans will say “we told you so.”
In this scenario the same people who damned Republicans for making the president a king will realize it was a mistake to make the president a prime minister.
Ultimately the answer to the question of how history will remember the current Senate is probably that it won’t remember it all.
Probably close to 99% of all people to ever be a senator do not even amount to a footnote to a footnote in history. How many people can tell you how Senator So-and-so voted on Andrew Johnson’s impeachment or Bill Clinton’s, let alone how they voted on some procedural issue. Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkwoski are part of that 99%. In 50 years they might have a post office named after them — if post offices still exist in 2070 — , but that’s it and the people who visit that post office won’t know who they are.
Those senators that are remembered are remembered mostly for other reasons. Some became president (Obama, LBJ, ect.) or ran for it, others became Secretary of State (William Seward), some did both (John Kerry, Hillary Clinton). Jefferson Davis was a senator, but is remembered for other, more infamous, reasons.
Others had more famous careers before they became senators. Fred Thompson is probably more famous as an actor than the senator who ran for president or who split his votes on the Clinton impeachment. John McCain will mostly be remembered as a war hero who became a senator, not a senator who was a war hero.
Only a select few famous for what they did during their time in the Senate. Everett Dirksen has a Senate office building named after him for what he did during the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Carl Vinson has an aircraft carrier named after him for the Two-Ocean Navy Act.
There is a difference between how history will remember someone or something and how you feel in the current moment, because the current moment is not history.