President Donald Trump is the only U.S. president to be impeached twice.
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Historian says U.S. division needs to be addressed, not ‘papered over’
APRILE RICKERT | CNHI News Indiana Jan 14, 2021
Southern Indiana historian and author Carl Kramer said the unprecedented second impeachment of President Donald Trump this week — the third Kramer has witnessed in his adult life of a sitting president — is something he never thought he’d see.
But Kramer, who taught at IU Southeast before his retirement, said he believes the events leading up to the historic House vote Wednesday demand the president be convicted in the Senate and said it will take more than a general call for unity to address the division in the nation — one that’s been repeated in history.
“It’s something that is necessary and tragic that we have a president whose actions, and in some cases inactions, have necessitated a second impeachment,” he said.
The vote to impeach for the second time came less than a week after pro-Trump protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol the day Congress was set to confirm the Electoral College votes for President-Elect Joe Biden, after months of claims by Trump that the election was unfairly stolen by Democrats.
As he listened to the House debate Wednesday with his wife, Kramer said he honed in on two very different themes coming from the two parties represented in the House.
Democrats, he said, spoke of the Jan. 6 invasion, the “clear and present danger” of the potential for Trump to incite more violence and the need for accountability.
He heard some Republicans speak against impeachment, in the name of restoring national unity.
“Looking back at the history, I have to say unity is essential but not at the cost of papering over very severe division,” said Kramer, who is a Democrat, adding “If you don’t deal with the problem today, it will come back to bite you.”
He looked back to the post-Civil War reconstruction era, when leaders sought to rebuild after the years of bloodshed and dissent of the domestic conflict.
Andrew Johnson, who became president after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, had butted heads with Congress on how to lead the post-war rebuilding. Kramer said Johnson had sought to keep the Southern status quo by pardoning and reinstating the Confederate lawmakers who had been in office during the war, a position that northern lawmakers did not agree with.
This set off the late 1800s passage of the Military Reconstruction Act, which called for regional generals to oversee several Southern military districts and aid in drafting new constitutions.
Still the president and Congress disagreed, with Johnson wanting to appoint generals who had a more “conservative [and] white supremacist bent,” Kramer said, while Congress wanted generals who were more attuned to making sure Black Americans had voting rights — and protecting those rights.
Johnson later became the first president to be impeached after violating the Tenure of Office Act by firing the Secretary of War — a man appointed by Lincoln who agreed with the Congressional ideals — although Kramer said historians debate whether Johnson did in fact violate the act.
Kramer said with many fixed on reunification, what was swept under the rug were the fights for the rights of many Black Americans, which had been the core of the war itself.
“My concern is similar things can happen if we don’t deal with white supremacy, racism and growing influence of white radicals [such as those who] invaded the Capitol last Wednesday,” he said, adding that he feels it’s important for Trump to be convicted in this impeachment “to make a step toward reducing his influence on Republicans in politics.”
But, Kramer said, he believes control should not be fully with one party, but be balanced with American values as the foundation.
“This country needs a strong competition between a center left party and a center right party, both of which adhere to common value of the rule of law, equal access to justice, the recognition of the rights and privileges of all citizens, regardless of race creed or color, gender…,” he said.
“We need to be able to debate policy whether it’s immigration or tariff or taxes without condemning people for who they are.”