Princeton historians Kevin Kruse and Julian Zelizer have a message for Democrats worried about causing a political firestorm by impeaching President Donald Trump: Act now or risk letting the president do irreparable harm to our democracy.
Writing in USA Today, the historians argue that the president must be held accountable if the United States is to remain a democracy in any meaningful sense.
“Accountability is essential to the long-term health of our democracy, more important than even healing the nation’s partisan divisions,” they write. “The United States learned this lesson 45 years ago. In August 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned from office in disgrace as soon as it became clear that the House would vote to impeach him for obstructing justice in the Watergate scandal and, moreover, that the Senate would likely vote to remove him from office.”
The historians then argue that former President Gerald Ford’s decision to give Nixon a full pardon as a way to “heal” the nation severely damaged faith in American institutions by seemingly putting elites above the law.
“The nation has continued to pay for its failure to hold Nixon accountable,” they write. “The divisions that Ford had hoped to paper over with his pardon have only continued to widen. Moreover, the general trend — toward a vague sense of ‘healing’ instead of holding specific wrongdoers accountable — has only continued to erode the public’s faith in government over the ensuing decades.”
They conclude by urging Democrats to right decades of historical wrongs by drawing the line at Trump’s behavior and by doing everything in their power to block him from escaping justice.
“As evidence continues to mount about all that President Trump and his advisers have done to violate the public trust, Democrats won’t have much choice,” they write. “If they want to heal the nation, not just for what’s happened under Trump but also for what’s happened in the decades before, they should make sure that wrongdoing is set right.”