Impeachment is the last resort for the most serious of presidential crimes: the “high crimes and misdemeanors” specified in the Constitution. And it’s much in the news these days.
We’ve been been through the impeachment process twice in our history, and had one near miss.
Andrew Johnson was the first of our chief executives to undergo the experience. He had wished to remove Secretary of War Edwin Stanton from the cabinet inherited from Abraham Lincoln. Johnson was blocked from doing that by legislation, but he proceeded anyway, and was impeached for his defiance of Congress.
That effort failed by one vote in the Senate on the premise that a President has the right to pick his own cabinet. (The incident is mentioned in the famous John F. Kennedy book, “Profiles in Courage.”)
Richard Nixon came close to being impeached, but he resigned before the articles of impeachment, being drawn up in the House of Representatives, could be completed. Once out of office, he might have been charged criminally for the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up.
Thank God he wasn’t. Gerald Ford pardoned him, saving the country from a trial that might have sent a former President to jail and surely would have caused deep and dangerous division among the American People already suffering a profound loss of confidence in the nation.
Bill Clinton was impeached, but it’s clear that his wrongdoing didn’t rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Yes, he committed perjury. But essentially, he was a naughty boy who then lied about what he’d done, quite clearly out of embarrassment.
At least, this was the prevailing consensus at the time. I believe it was correct.
Thank God Clinton wasn’t convicted, and that once again the nation was spared the divisiveness which would have followed impeachment — divisiveness that serves only those people and groups with the lowest and most destructive intentions.
Now we’re hearing about impeachment again.
It’s no defense of Donald Trump to point out that we’ve heard such talk since immediately after he was elected. And regardless of how deeply his opponents may disagree with Trump’s policies, his approach to government, or his behavior in office, I believe they are playing a dangerous game in trying to invoke the impeachment process.
We have a system for removing political leaders who don’t perform well in office or whose policies don’t please us. It’s called: election. The alternative is civil war — not necessarily a shooting civil war, but surely an intellectual and emotional civil war in which nobody wins, and whose consequences can be devastating.
The hostile public atmosphere created by impeachment makes it impossible for people to talk or listen to each other. This destroys the social fabric of a nation. And our social fabric is frayed enough already.
But having reached the current level of tension (which actually has been building since well before Trump came on the political scene), what path is open to us for restoring the peace of our nation and society?
It may seem an overly simplistic idea, but the answer is: faith.
Faith in what? The country? The Constitution? The capitalist system?
I had an uncle who always proclaimed his faith in the economy. “I have faith in the dollar,” he would say. “I have faith in my General Motors stock.”
Well, we all remember what happened to General Motors, and the economy has gone up and down wildly over the last few years.
Can one even have faith in such things? You might have confidence that the nation will come through hard times, and such confidence is a encouraging. But to believe that we can never fail is illusory.
Old Testament prophets raised questions about the faith which the ancient Israelites had in their national strength. Those prophetic and cautionary words were justified on all too many occasions.
Even the Roman Empire, which lasted 1,000 years, eventually crumbled. Things happen.
Can we have faith in the Church? To be honest, it’s not easy in the midst of ongoing scandal and a certain amount of current doctrinal ambiguity. But then, the Church is a large organization containing many factions.
With a bit longer view, we can have faith in the Church (the body of Christ) as the place where God’s truths are contained — the deposit of Faith given to us for our salvation. After all, the Church has outlasted pretty much every other institution (the Roman Empire, for instance), and truth eventually comes clear.
Faith is that virtue by which we believe all that’s been revealed about the person of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, our faith is in Christ. And that faith has power. It changes people’s lives. It can even change the course of events.
But we’re called upon to act on our faith. And we do that through prayer.
An excellent illustration of the power of prayer is the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when a vast armada of the Ottoman Turks was blocked from invading Europe.
Pope Pius V called on his people to pray the Rosary. A great wind storm came up in the Adriatic Sea, helping a much smaller Christian force overcome the great Muslim fleet. The event is still celebrated as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory on October 7.
I realize there are some people (Protestants, primarily) who dismiss the Rosary as “praying to Mary.” This is a misunderstanding. What we are doing is asking Mary to bring our prayers to Christ.
That Catholic nuance aside, the Rosary remains a powerful devotion. It’s a meditation on the Scriptures that invokes the Gospel to appeal for God’s intervention in our human struggles.
Regardless of how you pray, now would be the time to focus your intentions on our country. We’re in a period of great stress and divisiveness. Pray for unity. Pray for peace. Pray for healing.
(A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals.)