The mainstream media have used the word “historic” to cover every stage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment, giving weight to a process that critics say is purely political and the weakest case ever brought.
Earlier this month, for example, after Democratic staff on the House Judiciary Committee produced a report on the legal and constitutional grounds for impeaching Trump, Politico called it “historic” without further explanation.
The report cited history: it actually used the ill-fated impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 as a positive precedent, though that impeachment is regarded by scholars as a cautionary tale of what not to do.
In another example, last Friday Bloomberg News called the House Judiciary Committee’s vote on articles of impeachment “historic,” though the party-line vote proceeded exactly as expected and the decision merely moved two articles of impeachment — one for “abuse of power,” one for “obstruction of Congress” — to the full House.
And on Wednesday, Reuters called the impending impeachment vote “historic.” Politico, too, called the day “historic,” marking only the third time an American president had been impeached. But it placed the burden of that history squarely on the president, reporting that it would change how his legacy would be perceived.
Politico’s Meredith McGraw and Daniel Lippman attempted to explain (emphasis added):
Instead, his name will now be included on another short list of presidents — those attached to impeachment. It’s an ignominious group that includes Andrew Johnson, remembered for his refusal to ensure racial equality and voting rights for African-Americans after the Civil War, Richard Nixon, who resigned before being impeached but nonetheless caused generations of Americans to lose faith in government, and Bill Clinton, who has remained popular but is facing a reassessment of his impeachment legacy in the #MeToo era.
Johnson was not impeached for refusing to ensure racial equality and black voting rights. He was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act, in what historians now consider an abuse of power by the House of Representatives. The Senate — by one vote — declined to remove him from office.
Notably, Politico did not consider what the “historic” legacy of the Trump impeachment might mean for Congress or the Democrats who pursued it.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.