(CNN)President Donald Trump is uniquely focused on his place in history. He’s forever comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln or tweeting out –as he did Friday morning– that his popularity among Republicans is historically high. Trump views himself as a great president and wants to ensure his place in the historical record.
What happened Friday morning in Washington will do that – although probably not in the way Trump imagined.
In less than 30 minutes, the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, making him only the fourth president in the history of the republic to face a full House vote on impeachment. Two of the three – Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson – were ultimately impeached by the House in a floor vote. The third, Richard Nixon, resigned from office before what would have been a certain full House vote to impeach him.
There’s a tendency to lose sight of this historical moment because a ) it was totally expected and b) there is very little chance the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, will actually remove Trump from office.
But that would be a mistake. Because impeachment is the most serious thing that Congress can dovis a visthe executive branch. And once triggered, it can’t be undone. You can’t repeal an impeachment. It’s in the history books. Forever.
“Today is a solemn and a sad day,” said House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York follows the votes in his committee.
And he’s right. For a lot of reasons.
Wherever you come down on this impeachment question, it’s impossible to argue that these decisions will help heal the deep partisan divisions splitting the country. (That, of course, can’t be a reason not to pursue impeachment if you believe the President has done things that qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors.”) Even the briefest time spent watchingThursday’s 16 -hour Judiciary Committee hearingmade clear how far apart the two sides are on the impeachment question. And Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, storming from the room as soon as the votes were cast Friday was symbolic of the anger and frustration pulsing through both parties at the moment.
“This abuse of power doesn’t just undermine the integrity of our chamber or the independence of future presidencies,” Collins said in a statement after the Friday votes. “Democrats have sacrificed core American tenets of due process, fairness, and the presumption of innocence on the altar of a 2020 election that they lost three years ago. “
Taking a step back, the votes on Friday – and the expected impeachment of Trump by the full House sometime next week – seem to bookend a process and a period that began with the last impeached president. Our current partisan polarization can be traced back to House Republicans’ decision to impeach then-President Bill Clinton for lying under oath about his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. To be clear, partisanship existed before the Clinton impeachment. But that impeachment cemented it in ways that people at the time did not fully fully understand.
****** Trump’s entire candidacy for president grew out of that polarization. He treated (and treats) Democrats like the enemy – rhetorically and in his actions. He punishes any Republican elected official who does demonstrate total and complete fealty to his bastardized version of who the Republican Party is.
That he is now almost certain to join Clinton in the ranks of the impeached (but not removed from office) makes a certain sense: The President whose time in office ushered in our current era of feral partisanship and the president who is the darkest form of what that partisanship can create in our politics.
Trump isn’t much of a student of history, of course. He would likely say he is more interested in making history than in reading about it. Well, with the help of the House Democratic majority, Trump has made some history – and will make more next week when he becomes only the third president ever to be impeached.
Because he is Trump, he may well take some perverse pleasure in that distinction – believing that history will vindicate him, and perhaps more importantly, the politics of impeachment will play to his advantage come 1205455803378999297.
Maybe. But what we can say for sure is that Trump’s name is now written in the history books. For better or worse.