Jon Meacham: Impeachment trial will bring out Trump’s most impulsive behavior

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Jon Meacham. Photo credit: Gasper Tringale.

Few people have a resume as tailor-made to provide perspective on President Trump’s impeachment trial than Jon Meacham.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of President Andrew Jackson and was tapped by the Bush family to write the biography of George H. W. Bush. His recent book is “Impeachment.”

As the trial begins, Meacham offers some thoughts.

On the legacy of impeachment

From the very beginning, impeachment was the ultimate sanction. It was the ultimate check and balance in a system that was entirely based on checks and balances. The insight of the American Revolution was that no one person, no one body should be entrusted with too much power because the founders had a very realistic, almost dark view of human nature. And so it's a hugely important moment.

What Meacham will be watching

It's an unfolding story. As information emerges, as documents emerge, there's going to be a rising pile of evidence. It's quite likely that they will be sitting there in that chamber and people will be offering information that was not available to the House. 

I think the Senate will be in a very uncomfortable position for politicians, which is that they're going to have to take stands without a lot of time to put their finger in the air and see where the political winds are going.

On the president’s live tweets

I think whether what the president says actually affects what's unfolding on the floor in an official way, that's probably less of an issue. But he could overreach. He could make a good point. He could deflate something. He could also inflate his own troubles. This is going to be a moment that's going to bring out his most impulsive behavior.

Does the impeachment matter to voters?

I hope it matters because of the nature of the Constitution. If you raise the bar on what's impeachable, then you end up lowering the bar on what political behavior is acceptable. This is not a partisan point. Future presidents are going to study this very carefully to get a sense of what they might be able to get away with. That's just human nature.

My own bet is that the president survives this vote, and the people will decide whether they want four more years of this or not in November.

On the Democrat presidential candidates

I don't think it's at all implausible that [Bernie] Sanders or [Elizabeth] Warren wins the nomination and conceivably, depending on the constellation of circumstances, wins. We are in this political equivalent of climate change. There's an unsettled quality to our politics at the moment that I think makes almost anything possible. 

That said, my own bet is that Vice President Biden survives these early contests and probably goes head-to-head with the president. But I didn't think Donald Trump would be president either, so what the hell do I know?

On hope in America's future

We have a natural human tendency to minimize the struggles of the past and maximize the troubles at hand. Totally understandable, because the problems of our time are the problems of our time. But I think a more sober and proportionate sense of what a close-run thing America has been would lead us to be pretty hopeful. 

My view is that we have this remarkable experiment, it has survived, and if we do the right thing, I think it will continue to.

Jon Meacham will be at the Granada Theater in Santa Barbara Thursday, January 30 through UCSB Arts and Lectures.




Matt Guilhem


Kathryn Barnes