Presidential impeachments are about politics, not law – Updated by Julia Azari May 15, 2017, 11:20am EDT

J. David Ake/AFP/Getty Images

I’m starting to feel left out because I haven’t published a Saturday Night Massacre/Nixon/impeachment take yet. (Seth Masket and I did write this piece on constitutional crisis…) Heavy hitters in the constitutional law world are clearly thinking about the possibility that last week’s events will mark the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency. But despite the fact that the i-word has been trotted out, there’s been less said about the two presidents in American history who actually went through the impeachment process, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

This absence isn’t that surprising. The Clinton and Johnson impeachments are widely recognized as bogus — trivial acts of political vengeance. Challenging these distinctions requires heavy normative judgments. I won’t shy away from these, but that’s not the purpose of this post. Instead, this would be a good time to ask why this constitutional mechanism has been employed so sparingly and under such controversial conditions — and what this implies for Trump.

Most of us learn about Johnson’s impeachment as a case of partisan politics run amok. Most of the 11 articles of impeachment dealt with the violation of the Tenure of Office Act, which was probably unconstitutional anyway. An additional article of impeachment charged that Johnson had shown disrespect to Congress by engaging in “utterances, declarations, threats and harangues” that demeaned the office and failed to respect the separation between the branches — that is, giving speeches about his conflicts with Congress. It’s not exactly a charge that resonates with modern audiences, although it does make one wonder what the congressional Republicans who impeached Johnson would make of Donald Trump’s tweets. We’ll never know, but just for the record, I would watch that time-travel sci-fi movie.

Johnson came only one vote away from removal in the Senate. None of the Senate Democrats — Johnson’s erstwhile party before joining the Union ticket in 1864 — voted to remove him, but a few Republicans defected. On a biographical note of my own, I remember learning about the deciding vote — Edmund Ross of Kansas — as a sort of tale in political courage. Ross knew the charges weren’t serious and ultimately sacrificed his own career to vote the right way. In her short book about Johnson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed offers a different view:

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Nearly every winner at the SAG Awards had something to say about politics – Updated by Constance Grady and Alissa Wilkinson Jan 29, 2017, 10:44pm EST


At the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night, almost every winner seemed to have something to say about politics.

Few pulled a Meryl Streep and dedicated an entire speech to the state of the world today, but nearly everyone who spoke was soberly aware that they were celebrating on the same weekend in which President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration that will exacerbate an already debilitating global refugee crisis.

Before the ceremony even began in earnest, Kerry Washington spoke straight into the camera and reminded the audience that she and her fellow actors have every right to be political: “A lot of people are saying right now that actors should keep our mouths shut when it comes to politics. But the truth is, no matter what, actors are activists because we embody the humanity and worth of all people.”

And Host Ashton Kutcher, who spoke against the immigration ban on Twitter earlier this weekend, welcomed “everyone in airports that belong in my America” at the top of the show, adding, “You are a part of the fabric of who we are, and we love you and we welcome you.”

The 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals
Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne didn’t speak at the SAG awards, but they sent a message anyway.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

But the most pointed commentary came during the winners’ acceptance speeches.

Sarah Paulson, accepting an award for playing Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, urged those watching to donate to the ACLU — which successfully sued for an emergency stay on the immigration ban — as much as they are able.

Mahershala Ali, winning Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Moonlight, spoke about the importance of recognizing the commonalities in our differences. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, accepting her trophy for Veep, briefly channeled Trump (“I am the winner. The winner is me. Landslide.”), before reminding the audience that “I’m the daughter of an immigrant” and concluding, “Because I love this country, I am horrified by its blemishes. This immigrant ban is a blemish, and it’s un-American.”

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The N.F.L.’s Year of Ratings Politics – Ian Crouch January 2017

Aaron Rodgers, of the Green Bay Packers, in a game against the Dallas Cowboys last weekend. Photograph by Tom Pennington / Getty

Aaron Rodgers, of the Green Bay Packers, in a game against the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.
Photograph by Tom Pennington / Getty


An odd thing happened to the National Football League this season: millions of people stopped watching the games on television. The sagging numbers were a curiosity at first, but by midseason the press was running stories filled with ominous verbs. Ratings were plummeting, or in free fall, or collapsing. Things got so bad, Advertising Age reported, that the networks were forced to offer their advertisers free airtime to make up for the missing viewers. All told, regular-season television ratings were down eight per cent from the previous year, according to ESPN, and off about ten per cent from the league’s peak, in 2013. That year, Americans were showing such a seemingly insatiable appetite for the sport that Roger Goodell, the N.F.L. commissioner, called for more games to be added to the regular-season schedule. Yet just three years later the league appeared to be in retreat.

What was happening? Everyone had an explanation. Some said it was the referees, who were blowing calls and spoiling the games. Or it was the networks, which were showing too many commercials. One line of argument suggested that, because the teams were employing increasingly younger players to save money, the level of play was suffering. Or maybe the viewership numbers weren’t accounting for cord-cutters, who were streaming games online. Or were millennials too busy watching Netflix? Maybe everyone simply missed Peyton Manning, who retired last year.

The most popular argument—the one favored by the N.F.L. itself—involved politics. League executives argued that the Presidential campaign was drawing viewers away. The ratings, they predicted, would rebound after Election Day. And they did, thanks in large part to a popular slate of games on Thanksgiving and a large number of prime-time games featuring the resurgent Dallas Cowboys, long known as “America’s team.” But as the Web site Awful Announcing, among others, has pointed out, ratings in the second half of a season are always higher than in the first—and the N.F.L.’s strong second-half numbers this year were not enough to erase its rough start.

Still, even if the election wasn’t really to blame, the ideas and divisions that Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s campaigns laid bare seeped into fans’ discussions—and complaints—about the N.F.L. Some conservative fans argued that Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco’s quarterback, and the other players who were protesting during the national anthem had driven flag-loving Americans away. Others said that the sport had been softened to appease squeamish fans. Liberals, meanwhile, suggested that fans might finally have been turned off by the brutality of the game, and the N.F.L.’s slow response to the concussion crisis. There was talk that basketball, with its “young, diverse and tech savvy” fans, would one day usurp football as the national sport.

This politicization produced its share of incongruous moments and odd allies. The liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg called Kaepernick’s protest “dumb and disrespectful.” (She later apologized.) On live television the night before the election, Trump read a letter of support he’d received from Bill Belichick, the head coach of the Patriots—a no-nonsense guy whom you’d expect to kick a player off his team for tweeting about politics. “You’ve proved to be the ultimate competitor and fighter,” Trump said, reading the note. “Your leadership is amazing.” Suddenly, the N.F.L.’s big tent—where all the players look more or less alike under their helmets, and fans find common cause in matching jerseys and face paint—felt claustrophobic. An article on Bleacher Report stated that the Buffalo Bills locker room had been roiled by arguments over the election—especially after the team’s head coach at the time, Rex Ryan, spoke at a Trump rally. “Some of the African-American players on the team weren’t happy about Rex doing that,” an unnamed player said. Meanwhile, Trump supporters on the team were wary of speaking their minds, lest they be judged as racist.

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Your politics aren’t just passed down from your parents. This cartoon explains what actually happens. – Updated by Alvin Chang Nov 22, 2016, 12:30pm EST

Also, parents: You’re probably wrong about your kid.

For decades, political scientists thought they knew how kids developed their political beliefs: They mimicked their parents.

After all, the data showed that most children end up having the same political leanings as their parents.

But the problem with this model is that it assumes children know what their parents’ politics are — and that they usually accept those beliefs. This model didn’t sit right with political scientist Christopher Ojeda because it didn’t treat children as “independent and critical thinkers.”

So he and fellow political scientist Peter K. Hatemi wanted to know more about this process — from the child’s perspective. They researched what kids believe, what parents believe, and how the two interact.

What they found was that less than half of Americans accurately perceive their parents’ political leanings and adopt those beliefs. And a lot of that process depends on the relationship between parent and child. For example, the more they discuss politics, the more easily the child can diagnose her parent’s political beliefs. But those discussions have little to do with whether the child adopts those beliefs. That’s more dependent on whether the child feel supported and connected to her parent.

How are children actually making their decision?

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This Simpsons Clip Illustrates Why Donald Trump Could Win – PEMA LEVYSEP. 21, 2016 6:00 AM

In this classic episode of The Simpsons, local villain Montgomery Burns goes to the doctor and receives what should be devastating news. “You are the sickest man in the United States,” his doctor informs him. “You have everything,” including pneumonia, juvenile diabetes, and a little bit of hysterical pregnancy, as well as “several diseases that have just been discovered in you.” Mr. Burns replies that “this sounds like bad news.” But it turns out that while any one of his ailments could be fatal on its own, having them all at once is life-saving; there are so many diseases trying to take over Burns’ body that none of them can get through. Burns leaves the doctor’s office gloating that he is “indestructible.”

Medically speaking, this diagnosis doesn’t make much sense. But when it comes to the 2016 election, there’s some truth to it.

In this analogy, Donald Trump is, of course, Mr. Burns. Trump has said and done innumerable things that, individually, would normally derail a presidential candidate. But the sheer volume of Trump’s problematic positions, actions, and statements actually works to inoculate him from all of them.

In a campaign, each side tries to construct a coherent narrative about the other that will resonate with voters. In 2008, Barack Obama convinced voters that John McCain represented a third term of the unpopular President George W. Bush. In 2012, Obama won by successfully painting Mitt Romney as a millionaire who didn’t care about ordinary Americans.

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Leaked documents reveal secretive influence of corporate cash on politics – Ed Pilkington in Madison, Wisconsin Wednesday 14 September 2016 07.46 EDT

Sealed Wisconsin court documents from Scott Walker investigation expose extent of corporate influence on democratic process rarely seen by the public

Scott Walker

The pervasive influence of corporate cash in the democratic process, and the extraordinary lengths to which politicians, lobbyists and even judges go to solicit money, are laid bare in sealed court documents leaked to the Guardian.

The John Doe files amount to 1,500 pages of largely unseen material gathered in evidence by prosecutors investigating alleged irregularities in political fundraising. Last year the Wisconsin supreme court ordered that all the documents should be destroyed, though a set survived that has now been obtained by the news organisation.

The files open a window on a world that is very rarely glimpsed by the public, in which millions of dollars are secretly donated by major corporations and super-wealthy individuals to third-party groups in an attempt to sway elections. They speak to a visceral theme of the 2016 presidential cycle: the distortion of American democracy by big business that has been slammed by both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

In a case that is the subject of a petition currently in front of the US supreme court, five Wisconsin prosecutors carried out a deep investigation into what they suspected were criminal campaign-finance violations by the campaign committee of Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor and former Republican presidential candidate. Known as the “John Doe investigation”, the inquiry has been a lightning rod for bitter disputes between conservatives and progressives for years.

In July 2015 the state’s supreme court halted the investigation, saying the prosecutors had misunderstood campaign finance law and as a result had picked on people and groups “wholly innocent of any wrongdoing”. Highly unusually, the court also ordered that all the evidence assembled by the prosecutors be destroyed and later held under seal.

Among the documents are several court filings from the case, as well as hundreds of pages of email exchanges obtained by the prosecutors under subpoena. The emails involve conversations concerning Walker, his top aides, conservative lobbyists, and leading Republican figures such as Karl Rove and the chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus.

Trump also appears in the files, making a donation of $15,000 following a personal visit from Walker to the Republican nominee’s Fifth Avenue headquarters.

In addition to Trump, many of the most powerful and wealthy rightwing figures in the nation crop up in the files: from Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, hedge-fund manager Paul Singer and Las Vegas casino giant Sheldon Adelson, to magnate Carl Icahn. “I got $1m from John Menard today,” Walker says in one email, referring to the billionaire owner of the home improvement chain Menards.

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Despite the Republican nominee’s apparent flip-flopping on his signature immigration issue, those on the alt-right have been emboldened by his candidacy – Dan Roberts in Washington Saturday 27 August 2016 06.00 EDT

A Donald Trump T-shirt displayed at a rally in Jackson, Mississippi, this week.

The hate that dared not speak its name was in fine voice this week. In a grand Washington townhouse behind the supreme court, the air was thick with talk of what Donald Trump would do for white Americans.

“Everyone says we’re a nation of immigrants but we’re not,” said one man, proudly sporting a Trump T-shirt. “We’re a nation of northern European immigrants. We shouldn’t have to pay more just to live among our own demographic.”

“Absolutely,” agreed the woman next him. “My family go back to the 1680s.”

The party, thrown by Breitbart News, former employer of Trump’s new campaign chief Steve Bannon, was given a further veneer of respectability by an author signing a table full of hardbacks with Latin in the title. Ann Coulter’s new book, In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!, echoed the racially triumphant mood.

“The same way virtually any immigrant to Finland makes it less white, almost any immigrant to America makes it less honest,” Coulter writes in her 182-page hagiography. “There’s nothing Trump can do that won’t be forgiven. Except change his immigration policies.”

Unfortunately, at the very moment of the book-signing, that was exactly what Trump was doing.

In an interview on Fox News, the struggling Republican candidate dramatically rowed back on his signature pledge to deport undocumented immigrants, seemingly hoping to recapture moderates alarmed by the stridency of what he appears to have unleashed.

The electoral risk posed by Trump’s flirtation with white nationalism was underlined a day later, when Hillary Clinton used links to so-called “alt-right” thinkers to mount her fiercest attack yet.

“The de facto merger between Breitbart and the Trump campaign represents a landmark achievement for the ‘alt-right’,” Clinton said. “A fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican party. All of this adds up to something we’ve never seen before.”

She added: “This is not conservatism as we have known it. This is not Republicanism as we have known it. These are racist ideas, race-baiting ideas, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-women, all key tenets making up the emerging racist ideology known as the alt-right.”

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Trump and Clinton’s free trade retreat: a pivotal moment for the world’s economic future – Dan Roberts in Washington and Ryan Felton in Detroit Saturday 20 August 2016 10.24 EDT

Never before have both main presidential candidates broken so completely with Washington orthodoxy on globalisation, even as the White House refuses to give up. The problem, however, goes much deeper than trade deals

 Michigan voters listen to Hillary Clinton’s economic speech at Futuramic Tool & Engineering in Detroit last Thursday.

Enemies in politics and opposed on nearly all fronts, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have found themselves united together against Barack Obama and a tradition that has kept America in charge of the world economy’s rules for more than 70 years. The next president of the United States is rethinking free trade.

In Washington, that tradition was taken for granted for so long that it rarely attracted much attention even in the business press, let alone dominated the politics pages of an entire election season. But in 2016, America’s faltering faith in free trade has become the most sensitive controversy in DC – never before have both main presidential candidates broken with the orthodoxy that globalisation is always good for Americans.

The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), between 12 countries around the Pacific rim, excluding China, suddenlyfaces a wall of political opposition among lawmakers who had, not long ago, nearly set the giant deal in stone. Parallel negotiations between the US and Europe, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are suddenly even more behind: hamstrung by similar opposition as well as complications created by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

The White House has refused to give up, however, as it weighs the stakes of a system of multilateral deals largely invented by the US after the second world war. Before he left for his summer vacation, Obamapromised one last attempt to ratify TPP in the lame-duck session of Congress before he leaves office.

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It won’t happen, but compulsory voting might be the only solution to political ignorance in America – SEAN ILLING THURSDAY, AUG 11, 2016 03:00 AM PDT

It won't happen, but compulsory voting might be the only solution to political ignorance in America

Voting booths in St. Joris Weert, Belgium, June 13, 2010. (Credit: AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

The success of Donald Trump reveals a number of troubling truths about our country, but voter ignorance is the most glaring. If more Americans were involved, if more were informed and discerning citizens, Trump’s political existence would not be possible.

Love him or hate him, Trump is a reflection of the country. He sports his idiocy like a badge of honor, knowing his supporters do the same. He knows nothing of the world he wants to lead. He doesn’t understand the issues and makes no effort to pretend otherwise. Virtually everything he’s said about policy or geopolitics is false.

None of that matters.

Trump knows his audience. “I love the poorly educated,” he famously said. They love him back, too. Recall that Trump earned the most primary votes in the history of the Republican party, and he did it with overwhelming support from less educated voters. That’s hardly surprising. You have to be blinkered by rage or woefully benighted to regard a man who speaks “just below a 6th grade level” as fit for the presidency. And yet millions of Americans found him refreshing, a welcomed blast of anti-elitism.

Trump’s rise says much more about us than him. It’s clear we have an ignorance problem in America. There’s nothing we can do to stop demagogues from preying on illiterate voters, but it turns out there are ways to reduce voter ignorance. We know that people who vote regularly tend to know more than those who don’t. The issue is that not enough people vote.

Among major democracies, U.S. voter turnout is uniquely low. In 2014, for example, a paltry 36 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls. Even in presidential election years, voter turnout peaks around 60 percent. This is a national embarrassment. A quick glance at the data gathered by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance offers some perspective. Here are just a few countries whose turnout dwarfs America’s:

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5 numbers that mattered this week – By STEVEN SHEPARD 07/16/16 07:47 AM EDT


A whopping 74 percent of have barely heard of Donald Trump’s new running mate Mike Pence. | AP Photo

5 numbers that mattered this week

Continuing our POLITICO feature, where we dig into the latest polls and loop in other data streams to tell the story of the 2016 campaign. Here are five numbers that mattered this week.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — Donald Trump’s now-official choice of running mate on the GOP presidential ticket — enters the national political arena as a virtual clean slate, according to an average of two recent polls.

In this week’s CBS News/New York Times poll, a whopping 74 percent of registered voters said they hadn’t yet heard enough about Pence to have an opinion. An additional 13 percent described themselves as undecided or refused to answer the question.

Only 5 percent of voters in the CBS News/New York Times poll said they have a favorable opinion of Pence, and 8 percent viewed him unfavorably.

More voters had an opinion of Pence in a McClatchy-Marist poll this week: A combined 68 percent said they hadn’t heard of Pence or had no opinion. Pence’s favorable rating was just 12 percent, compared to 21 percent unfavorable.

The discrepancy is likely due to question wording: The CBS News/New York Times poll specifically offers respondents the option of saying they are undecided, or they haven’t heard enough about the subject to form an opinion. That leads to lower favorable — and, consequentially, unfavorable — ratings for all figures.

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