If you are researching impeachment issues, I recommend as one source conservative commentator Ann Coulter’s 1998 book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton. I bought the book assuming that Ms. Coulter had argued that the bar for impeachable behavior was pretty low. I wanted to see whether she and the conservative commentators who lauded her scholarship when applied to President Clinton would try to distinguish her arguments if applied to President Trump. Four impressions emerged.
First, Ms. Coulter asserted persuasively that the Founding Fathers considered grounds for impeachment in the American system to be primarily related to a moral standard, not necessarily linked or limited to legally criminal behavior, and that the standard was simply that the official “behave amiss.” She also flatly declared: “Lying is an impeachable offense.” An argument can fairly be made that according to the standard Ms. Coulter outlined, a number of Mr. Trump’s undisputed actions in office would be grounds for impeachment.
Second, her exhaustive allegations of inappropriate behaviors of President and Ms. Clinton stirred lost memories. Ms. Coulter’s accuracy has sometimes been assailed, but if but half of what she recounts is accurate, even those who don’t vigorously oppose the Clintons gain a better appreciation as to why their activities – and their apparent ability to get away with them — so infuriated conservatives.
Third, Ms. Coulter’s recitation of the methods used by the Clinton White House to defend itself seems a literal playbook of the approaches now being used by President Trump and his adherents: aggressive attacks against officials whose careers had theretofore been above reproach; assailing investigators’ alleged motives as a manner to distract from the strength of the evidence they uncovered; decrying leaks; sudden reversals in accounts supported by a cohort of advocates; claims that The New York Times and The Washington Post were biased against the president, etc.
Finally, Ms. Coulter makes a number of declarations about Mr. Clinton that have ironic and disturbing resonance given the circumstances in which we find ourselves today:
- “Instead of reflecting Americans’ virtues and aspirations, President Clinton reflects the country’s dark side. He has debased the White House, the administration, and the entire country, not only by what he has done but also by how he has defended himself …. Clinton has done worse than lie: he has told lies that no one can believe, and forced those around him to lie as well. And then he and his cronies have denied not only the facts but even basic standards of decency …. Clinton’s legacy is that he has no shame, no sense of duty or obligation to the country, and no concern for his own reputation.”
- “Clinton’s [behavior] has led directly to monstrous ‘factions’ of hypnotized zombies spouting the absurd…. [H]is own lack of integrity has infected the nation …. People who used to say controversial, but not preposterous, things are now having to twist themselves into pretzels to defend him. The line of defense shifts away from protests that the president is innocent to charges that the accusers have bad motives. (Even if their accusations happen to be true.)”
- “Ruthless political gamesmanship has overtaken the law and finally overtaken the truth. Politicians are allowed to reshape our understanding of facts and truth, because it’s all just political spin.”
- “Clinton draws on every sick theme of our culture to win politically …. Under Clinton the country has grown accustomed to believing that there is no truth.”
- “One of the most terrible things [Italics in Original] Clinton has done to the country is to make it respectable to lie.”
- “It may sound trite, but truth is all that separates us from the cave. People cannot communicate if they cannot assume that most of what they hear is true. Truth is prerequisite for a society to survive, for capitalism to flourish, and for a system of law to dispense justice, rather than raw power.”
The last quoted passage in particular contains good words, seemingly written from a real sense of outrage (even if the outrage blazed more brightly due to Ms. Coulter’s substantive policy differences with Mr. Clinton). Although I suspect that most presidential historians would indicate that President Clinton was not the first president that may have twisted the truth and it seems pretty indisputable that he hasn’t been the last, what matters now is how and whether we as a people can escape our cycle of tribalism, distortion, and recrimination. As our mothers taught us, two (or more) wrongs don’t make a right. It’s time for us to stop.