More than a century passed between the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the almost-impeachment of Richard Nixon in 1974. Since then, the intervals have been getting shorter — a sort of Doppler effect. It was 24 years after Nixon’s resignation that President Bill Clinton’s case came before the House and only 21 years after that that the impeachment investigation of President Trump began.
Impeachment may soon become routine. The nation is at war with itself. If Hillary Clinton had been elected in 2016, Republicans might have tried to impeach her. Indeed, if impeachment becomes a regular tactic of the opposition, America will have informally adopted a quasi-parliamentary system of governance.
No matter what the outcome of an impeachment, the process itself would, among other things, ensure that nothing much would get done in the way of the public’s business. That would, in fact, be the goal — to paralyze an enemy administration.
How would this serve the country? It would be a quantum leap in partisan antagonism. In the past, Americans regarded impeachment as an extreme rarity, a sort of civic apocalypse. In the future, it might become merely another ritual of hardball politics.
Lance Morrow, the Henry Grunwald Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, was an essayist at Time for many years. This piece was adapted from City Journal.
Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images