Lately social media posts have been bouncing around the idea of impeaching the new president. Petitions state various reasons ranging from Trump’s narcissism to his signing of unpopular executive orders (I’ll probably write more on that topic later). Unfortunately, by themselves, none of these reasons are useful for an impeachment. US Constitution states “the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Under the same clause, federal judges can be impeached too.
Treason and bribery are obvious offenses. However, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is an archaic legal term relating to the power of an official in the federal government. It simply means the individual did something that was politically wrong. That is, the crime must be based on the terms of the oath of office and constitution. Think of someone who steals money from the country and the public official who covers up such a crime. In addition, a crime committed against the federal separation of powers or actions against constitutional laws would be valid reasons for impeachment.
But, impeachment does not mean the politician will leave office. Impeachment is similar to an indictment in other courts. It does not mean the person is guilty, just that they could have committed a crime. The official would need to be convicted; then they would be removed from office.
How hard is it to impeach and convict a President? To understand, we must look at the three previous presidential impeachments.
William (Bill) Clinton
Bill Clinton was impeached but acquitted. In plain terms, that means that Congress investigated and charged him on two allegations that he obstructed justice through perjury (that he lied under oath). For those of you who don’t remember the incident, the charges were related to an affair he had with an intern. Although the president publicly denied the affair, the investigation continued and determined it had happened. Impeachment charges went to trial in the Senate. The charges were not due to his affair; they were based on the fact that he lied about it. After much testimony and debate, the Senate acquitted him. Bill Clinton remained in office and is now ranked as the eighth best US President in history.
Nixon’s impeachment was perhaps the most notorious since it encompassed the infamous break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices, numerous political shenanigans, the ensuing Watergate hearings, the Vietnam War protests, and the first unelected US President. In the impeachment, Nixon was charged with three enormous crimes. First, obstruction of justice with charges including violating his constitutional duties, interfering with justice, lying to the Department of Justice, misuse of CIA, and multiple counts of bribery. Second, he was charged with abuse of power including misuse of FBI and Secret Service, disregard of the rule of law, and impeding justice. Third, he was charged with contempt of Congress, including forswearing his oath of office and refusing to provide evidence to Congress.
Previously, Nixon’s Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had resigned due to federal income tax evasion. Due to that, Nixon had nominated Gerald Ford as VP and he was approved by the House and Senate. A year later, impeachment charges were brought. When Nixon realized he was likely to be convicted, he resigned. Gerald Ford became the first (and only) US President who had not been elected to the office. President Ford gave Nixon a full pardon for any crimes he might have committed. However, 25 government officials (including Nixon’s attorney) were indicted and many were imprisoned for crimes. Because of the resignation and pardon, Nixon was never tried and never convicted (but he did retain his pension). In the next presidential election, Ford lost, and many historians believe the pardon cost Ford the election. In 1976, after two years as a recluse, Nixon traveled to China, beginning a time of post-presidential influence that continued until his death in 1994.
Way back in 1865, Andrew Johnson became president following Lincoln’s assassination. He also became the first president to be impeached. During his impeachment, Congress charged Johnson with forswearing his oath of office in eleven articles of impeachment. Actually, the charges stemmed from a battle between President Johnson and Congress over the Tenure of Office Act, a law enacted to restrict the president from firing certain executive officials. The Senate did not convict Johnson. Reactions to that situation caused a grass roots movement to amend the Constitution to abolish the presidency — as we know, that failed. For good or bad, Johnson continued as president until 1869. Many contemporary historians consider him to have been both incompetent and a racist who mishandled the reunification. Eventually, US Supreme Court ruled against the Tenure of Office Act and Congress repealed it in 1887.
Back to the Present
What kind of action might be considered an impeachable offense? Hypothetically, I’ll offer a few fictional possibilities. Let me repeat: these are totally fictional. If Trump were to overstep the boundaries of the executive branch, perhaps by bypassing the power of the Senate and the House to create and pass laws, that would threaten the separation of power. Since he was elected as a businessman, another potential issue would be if Trump implemented a conventional business practice: in business, it is common to give someone a monetary incentive, but in government, under US Constitution, that is considered a bribe. Another example would be if it were discovered that Trump gave secret information to Putin. Any of those, if true, would be impeachable crimes.
Now we come to the main question. Is it possible that the current movement to impeach Trump can make headway?
Since the US House must bring an impeachment charge, and the US Senate must implement the hearing and convict the individual, it is unlikely they will do so. Both US Senate and US House majority are Republicans, and they like having power in both the executive and legislative branches. Sure, their attitudes could change. Only time will tell.
—- Footnotes —-
 Constitution, Article II, Section 4 (capitalization and punctuation from the original).
 “1998 President Clinton Impeached” This Day in History online at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-clinton-impeached (accessed 1/28/2017).
 James Lindgren, “Ranking Our Presidents: How did 78 scholars decided [sic] how to rank the presidents from Washington to Clinton?” Wall Street Journal, online at http://history-world.org/pres.pdf (accessed 1/28/2017).
 “Richard Nixon: 37th U.S. President” The History Place: Presidential Impeachment Proceedings online at http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/impeachments/nixon.htm (accessed 1/28/2017).
 “1973: Vice President Agnew resigns” This Day in History online at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/vice-president-agnew-resigns (accessed 1/28/2017).
 This website presents an excellent timeline: “The Nixon Administration and Watergate: Legal Repercussions” History Commons online at http://www.historycommons.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=nixon_and_watergate_tmln&nixon_and_watergate_tmln_legal_repercussions=&startpos=100 (accessed 1/28/2017).
 “Watergate Casualties and Convictions” Watergate.Info online at http://watergate.info/analysis/casualties-and-convictions (accessed 1/28/2017).
 “Proceedings of the Senate Sitting for the Trial of Andrew Johnson President of the United States” online at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/articles.html (accessed 1/28/2017).
 “The Tenure of Office Act” Famous American Trails online at http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/impeach/imp_tenure.html (accessed 1/28/2017).