Attempt to impeach Andrew Johnson offers insight

Curt Greer’s May 2 letter to the editor fantasizes an “attempted coup” by a “Democratic cabal.” Robert Mueller is a decorated Marine Corps hero and lifelong Republican (“Democratic cabal?”) who continued his lifelong service to his country by taking on the thankless job of investigating the president. The portrait of Mr. Trump painted by Mr. Mueller is far different than portrayed in the tweets that followed. Mueller declined to indict Mr. Trump on obstruction charges, scrupulously following a Department of Justice policy that exempts a sitting president from indictment, but left that job up to Congress, as is proper.

Don’t you remember? Bill Clinton was impeached by Republicans for lying about the Monica Lewinsky affair, and George W. Bush subsequently won the Republican presidential nomination on a platform of “restoring honor and dignity to the White House.” Where are honor and dignity now? We have hush-money payments to porn stars. The Washington Post fact-checker documents over 10,000 lies told publicly by Mr. Trump.

The impeachment of Andrew Johnson sounds eerily familiar: A self-styled champion of the white middle class, Johnson spoke to voters skeptical of the Republican Party’s progressive agenda of Reconstruction. Many voters identified with his raw, profane style. John Wilkes Booth made him president with a bullet.

E.P. Whipple wrote about him (The Atlantic magazine) in 1866, “The president of the United States has so singular a combination of defects for the office of constitutional magistrate, that he could have obtained the opportunity to misrule the nation only by a visitation of Providence.” Johnson, as president, vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Many members of Johnson’s cabinet worked behind the scenes with congressional allies to attempt to restrain the president, who began to see conspiracies against him everywhere. He moved to purge the offenders who frustrated his desires.

A campaign of white nationalist terror followed. Johnson refused to suppress the violence, in which dozens of blacks were slaughtered or maimed, instead using the public’s fear of violence to build a constituency loyal to him personally instead of to either party. The impeachment was defeated by one vote. Reconstruction was abandoned. What followed was 100 years of Jim Crow.

Mr. Greer’s letter thanks Mr. Trump for a 3.2 percent GDP growth. I submit that the price for that is too high.

Doug Wertz


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