Let’s face it: Trump got impeached and nobody cared. The 45th President of the United States was investigated through multiple committees in the House of Representatives and impeached by a House vote of 230 to 197 and 229 to 198 on each Article, respectively. For the third time in American history, the commander in chief went through this careful constitutional process and was voted to stand trial in the Senate. How much of Americans collectively deciding not to care can be attributed to the symbiotic relationship between news coverage and viewer opinions? How much of it speaks to the divisive nature of Congress and politics in general?
Through our academic journeys, we learn about the constructs of American government. My U.S. History teachers emphasized the severity of impeachment. When a sitting president’s actions warrant impeachment talks, it should be treated as serious by both the media and the average American citizen. But this whole impeachment was just another unread story, another neglected piece of history.
The prior two times presidents have been impeached were in 1868 when Andrew Johnson violated a “tenure of office law” and also arguably “undermined the cause of racial equality” established by former President Abraham Lincoln only years earlier. President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 holds precedence as what most modern Americans associate with impeachment. Although the Articles of Impeachment were passed for Clinton’s dishonesty under oath, the Senate voted across party lines to acquit him, noting the overly-politicized charges. Why did people care so much more about Clinton’s impeachment than Trump’s? It can be argued that it is because Trump’s impeachment dealt with legitimate foreign policy concerns as opposed to lying about sexual relations under oath — much less juicy. Is that what we care about, entertainment and drama more than abiding by the Constitution?
It isn’t that this wasn’t interesting enough to care about; it was the generally-accepted assumption that Congressional party lines are drawn with a thick Sharpie and this undeniable division made way for a predictable outcome. The Democratic House would impeach, the Republican Senate would acquit. It is important to recognize Senator Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who went against the Republican party by voting to impeach Trump, and who is now receiving a great deal of ostracism and hate for it. Whether you love “The Donald” or hate him, every American should hope for a less predictable outcome in important governmental processes like impeachment.
I do not have a law degree (yet), nor can I sit here and write about the intricacies of the Constitution. I just wish we could have more trust in the government, look past party lines and take an impeachment seriously. It is depressing, especially as a political science student, to see George Washington’s worst fears about a two-party system come true through such turbulent political parties.
The news, generally speaking, has made things worse. I distinctly remember the notification popping up on my phone from The New York Times saying something like: “President Donald Trump has just been impeached by the House of Representatives.” News has a large impact on what we prioritize and how we think. So instead of aesthetically pleasing graphics and pop culture perspectives, the media should help the public understand what impeachment means.
People may not think their opinions matter, a feeling I relate to. Despite my excitement to partake in my first presidential election this year, I know my vote won’t make a difference (especially since New Jersey and I share the same political affiliation). However, I refuse to believe that we have done everything we can. We, meaning all of us: Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and Green Party members alike can and must do more if we expect more from the government we put our faith in.
Call your senators, stand up for what you believe in and demand your representatives find a balance between being a delegate working with their constituents and a trustee working for their constituents. Through all of American history, things have only changed because of passionate people who are not afraid to wait or to work. We shouldn’t have seen an impeachment trial pass us by, seemingly scripted as it went perfectly to plan. I know it’s naive to think partisanship will ever fully disappear — and frankly it shouldn’t — but next time something as important as an impeachment happens, no matter your political affiliation, care.
Jessica D’Agostino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.