Nixon, Clinton, and What the Right Gets Wrong About Impeachment

Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse discusses the lessons we can take from the impeachments of Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Andrew Johnson.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept

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The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing on Wednesday, with testimony from a quartet of legal scholars from major Universities. Republicans on the committee repeatedly attempted to slow down the proceedings using parliamentary stall tactics, and continued to focus on the perceived partisan motivations of the impeachment process rather than the facts of the case against the President — while Democrats used the hearing to build up the constitutional case for removing him from office. But while the minutiae of the legal case against Trump are important, so is the political history of the country’s three previous impeachment efforts. Princeton History professor Kevin Kruse joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss what the current congress can learn from the historical examples of Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, and Andrew Johnson.

Mehdi Hasan: Hello, this is Mehdi Hasan, and before we get to today’s show, I have a small request. The Intercept — and Deconstructed — rely on readers and listeners like you to support the journalism we do here every day. Right now, you can head to and do just that. Membership is not only about money — it’s about a proud and public declaration of support for the kind of fierce, adversarial journalism we do every day.

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Kevin Kruse: As this case gets worse and worse and his culpability gets clearer and clearer, I think at some point, Congress is going to have to decide that they’re not there to be loyal to the president. They need to look out for their own skins and their own future.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. 2019 began with a promise:

Rashida Tlaib: We’re gonna go in there, and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.

MH: And now, at the end of 2019, the Democrats are almost there, about to make history.

KK: Given the historical precedent, we are well above the standards called for by the Nixon and Clinton impeachments.

MH: That’s my guest today, Princeton historian Kevin Kruse.

In the week that the House Intelligence Committee published a damning report on Trump’s abuses of power, and as impeachment hearings opened in the House Judiciary Committee, does anything the Republicans say about this impeachment process bear any resemblance to the truth? And what lessons can we learn from the history of impeachment?

Jerrold Nadler: This is the first hearing we are conducting pursuant to House Resolution 660 and the Special Judiciary committee procedures that are described in Section 4A of that resolution.

MH: On Wednesday morning, history was made as the House Judiciary Committee began its first impeachment hearing. The House Judiciary Committee under Jerry Nadler is picking up where the House Intelligence Committee under Adam Schiff left off, and is gearing up to draft what a lot of us have been waiting for for a while now: articles of impeachment against the President of the United States Donald J. Trump. How many? We don’t know yet. I’d impeach Trump for everything: for campaign finance violations and hush money payments to Stormy Daniels; for obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation; for violating the Emoluments clause of the constitution on a near-daily basis; for trying to use the federal government to go after private companies like Amazon; for trying to illegally divert aid from Puerto Rico to Texas and Louisiana; for threatening Congress and the judiciary and the free press; the list goes on and on and on.

But House Democrats want to keep it narrow, keep it tight. They want to impeach him for bribery, extortion and abuse of power over Ukraine. Fine. And that’s where the House Judiciary Committee comes in. This is the committee, remember, that approved articles of impeachment against only three previous presidents in U.S. history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1974, and of course, Bill Clinton in 1998. Nixon quit before he could be impeached by the House; while Clinton and Johnson were successfully impeached by the House but neither of them were removed by the Senate.

That seems to be the case again this time around. Donald Trump will be impeached by the House, probably before Christmas, but Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans who control the Senate have no interest in putting country above party and impeaching this clearly, obviously, undeniably, lawless, reckless and corrupt president.

I mean, just check out Senator Lindsay Graham and the U-turn he’s performed on impeachment, since acting as a House impeachment manager for the Republicans against Bill Clinton in 1998:

Lindsey Graham: You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.

MH: That was Graham then, this is Graham now:

LG: I’m not going to read these transcripts. The whole process is a joke. I find the whole process to be a sham and I’m not going to legitimize it.

MH: Is there a more shameless politician in America than Lindsay Graham? I’m not sure. On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released a pretty damning report on what it discovered in its investigation of Donald Trump and Ukraine and military aid and quid pro quos, based on public testimony that we all saw and heard with our own eyes and ears from a range of serving and former Trump administration officials.

Gordon Sondland: I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo’? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.

MH: The House Intelligence Committee report, running to a whopping 300 pages, concluded that the president of the United States was engaged in a “months-long effort…to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election.” Trump, they say, launched a “scheme” to subvert “U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined [US] national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign.” The report accuses the president of what it calls an “unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry,” pointing out how he denied documents to Congress and tried to block State Department diplomats and White House officials from testifying. While it doesn’t explicitly call for or endorse impeachment, the report does point out, and I quote: “The founding fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment.”

Of course, the entire Republican and Trumpian strategy since these impeachment hearings kicked off has been in bad faith, it’s been all about trying to delegitimize the whole process, wreck it with conspiracy theories and straight-up lies, and all the while pretend the Democrats in Congress are doing something illegitimate, untoward, unconstitutional even. Just listen to the rantings and ravings of Trump himself:

Donald J. Trump: They don’t even know what they’re talking about. It’s a scam. It’s a hoax… This is a witch hunt at the highest level and it’s so bad for our country… These unhinged extremists have been plotting to illegally overturn the election… They’ve got a sick puppy. Shifty Schiff, he’s sick.

MH: And of course, he’s backed up by his media echo chamber: the conmen and women of Fox News:

Newscaster: This is now about overturning the results of the 2016 election.

Newscaster: The Dems impeachment witch hunt continues.

Newscaster: The corrupt, cowardly Adam, the Shifty Schiff —

Newscaster: Overturning the election —

Newscaster: Witch hunt —

Newscaster: Shifty Schiff —

Newscaster: Witch hunt —

Newscaster: Witch hunt —

MH: It’s just one bad faith argument, one ridiculous lie, after another. They say it’s not Congress’s job to remove a duly-elected president just a year away from a presidential election. Let the voters decide!, they say. There’s no precedent, they say, for the way in which House Democrats have gone about conducting the impeachment process. They say there’s no support for impeachment. They say it’s all partisan, and it should have been bipartisan.

John Kennedy: The reason I’m offended by what’s going on in the House, this will be the first partisan impeachment in the history of our country.

MH: So on today’s show, I want to debunk some of these Republican talking points and media myths about impeachment, and I want to try and see what lessons we can all learn from history because guess what? A lot of what you’ve been told about impeachment, the legality, the politics, the precedent, even by top Democrats, just isn’t true.

[Music interlude.]

MH: My guest today is someone I’m very excited to have on the show because I’ve been following him on Twitter for a while, where he is the master of the “sick burn,” where he “drags” the likes of Dinesh D’Souza and other conservative frauds and fanatics. I’m talking about Kevin Kruse, professor of history at Princeton University, an expert on 20th century American history and the modern conservative movement, and co-author of the recent book “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.”

Kevin Kruse, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

KK: My pleasure to be here.

MH: This week, Kevin, we’ve had the House Intelligence Committee releasing its impeachment report. We’ve had the House Judiciary Committee open its own impeachment hearings. What do you make of the way House Democrats have conducted this impeachment process? Have they done it by the book? Is there a book?

KK: Yeah, there really is no book. And so you know, the book is the Constitution and the Constitution says the House can set up impeachment proceedings according to however it like and so we’ve seen them unfold in different ways. You know, with Andrew Johnson, the House basically rushed to impeach three days after he’d fired Edwin Stanton and then a week later went back and drew up the Articles of Impeachment. They did it I think backwards from what we’d see today.

With Nixon there were inquiries in the senate and the House and then finally the House Judiciary Committee took it up and and plowed ahead that way. With Clinton, there was really no extended hearings in the House Judiciary Committee. They relied on the Starr report to do all the work for them. They kind of rushed it through. And so we’ve seen Democrats today have have done their own thing. But that’s in keeping with past practices where it’s really been a one off every time.

MH: Jonathan Turley, a law professor at GW, at George Washington, who was one of the witnesses on Wednesday in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the four law professors who turned up to talk about what it means to impeach a president. What are high crimes and misdemeanors? One of the things he complained about — he was the GOP witness — one of the things he complained about was this is happening too fast. It’s rushed, compared to previous impeachments. And that’s not true as you just mentioned, the House impeached Andrew Johnson, literally immediately, within days of him committing his impeachable offenses, his firing of his Secretary of War. And with Clinton, I believe we’re on a similar timeframe to Bill Clinton.

KK: Yes, we are. I think, in fact, we’re at the point in the Clinton impeachment where they would have actually voted on the actual articles in the full House. I think either today or tomorrow according to that timetable. So it’s not too fast at all. That’s an odd complaint to make that it’s too fast. There’s no provision in the Constitution that it has to proceed over a certain set course of months or weeks or whatever. But also the impeachment provisions in the Constitution are ones that are there in case a president needs to be impeached. It doesn’t say do it slowly. And often, in many cases, if a president needed to be impeached, it’s something that would have to happen fairly quickly if he were a danger to the country.

MH: And interestingly, many Democrats believe it should be done quickly. And we’ll come back to that in a moment. Just in terms of what we’ve seen this week at the House Judiciary Committee four law professors turned up to testify about what impeachment is. One of them Michael Gerhart of the University of North Carolina law school. He made an interesting point that I’ve been banging on about on this show all year long. I just want you play that clip.

Michael Gerhart: We know that not all impeachable offenses are criminal and we know that not all felonies are impeachable offenses. We know further that what matters in determining whether particular misconduct constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor is ultimately the context and the gravity of the misconduct in question.

MH: It’s kind of a crucial point, isn’t it? Because when I go on CNN or MSNBC and I’m sitting with a Republican panelist, they say, oh, he’s not done anything criminal. But that’s not what impeachment is about. It’s not about criminal offenses. I’m glad to hear a law professor saying that.

KK: That’s exactly right. And if you look at what past presidents have been brought up for on charges impeachment, again Andrew Johnson was — Some of the articles basically just dealt with his boorish behavior. He was an embarrassment. He was drunk in public, those kind of things. Those weren’t crimes, but they were something that Congress felt he should be removed for.

MH: Imagine having a boorish president, Kevin.

KK: I know. I know. It’s hard to think about. But think about seriously, what’s the most significant crime, charge you could impeach a president for, failing to defend the country from a foreign attack? That’s not technically a crime. But I think everyone would agree that that would be an impeachable offense.

MH: A dereliction of duty.

KK: Exactly right.

MH: And what’s interesting, though, is when you heard these law professors talk about what are high crimes and misdemeanors, and I’ve said on the show before, the famous quote from Gerald Ford, when he was a member of Congress is that high crimes and misdemeanors or whatever the House of Representatives say they are at any moment in time. It’s not about, you know, a felony crimes or breaking the criminal code, in which case, let me throw this out there: Was it wise to have four law professors turn up to talk about the law and criminality? Should they maybe have had you and some of your colleagues from the world of history, some historians to talk about precedent and to talk about what has happened in previous impeachment hearings?

KK: Well, I always think it’s a wise move to speak with historians on any occasion. But you know, they did that in 1998 Clinton impeachment hearings they brought in my colleague Sean Mullins was one of them. They brought several historians up to speak about it. And I personally find those discussions interesting. I guess, Congress decided that they would go in a different a different route this point.

MH: And you mentioned already in your opening answer, you mentioned Johnson and Nixon and Clinton. These are the three presidents who had impeachment hearings. Obviously, two of them were actually impeached. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached. What are the big lessons, do you think, as you’ve been watching this unfold over many months, and I’m a keen follower of yours on Twitter, and I urge everyone listening to follow you on Twitter, not just for your history, but for your humor. What are the big lessons that you think people should learn from previous impeachment episodes this time round, including Democrats?

KK: Yeah. Well, I think one of the lessons is that, or one of the reminders, is that a lot of the things we’re hearing about the process of this impeachment hearing and how it’s outrageous.

MH: It’s bullshit. A lot of the process stuff is bullshit.

KK: You know, that’s an academic term I don’t like to use but yes, it is bullshit. The idea that closed door hearings are somehow remarkable. The House Judiciary Committee hearings for Nixon’s impeachment were almost entirely closed door affair. They had a two hour opening segment in early May. And then they were closed door throughout the rest of May, June and most of July and then finally opened them up again at the very end of July before they took the vote. So that was an entirely closed door process. And if that’s the model, you’re going by, it was closed door. The Clinton impeachment hearings, almost entirely closed doors. Starr testified in public, virtually everyone else’s testimonies were heard behind closed doors. So these kind of process arguments and I can make that case for several of the other ones are largely as you said, bullshit.

The other thing I think, to take away is that what were the charges in these cases? Again, Clinton famously brought up for perjury, but also for obstruction of justice, and there was an attempt to get him on abuse of power. Those are the same ones that are the central impeachment charges, articles drawn up against Richard Nixon, obstruction of justice, abuse of power. We’re going to hear those time and time again in the Trump —

MH: So there’s a commonality?

KK: There is a commonality. So the things he’s been accused of now are in the same vein as what they were accused of then. I would argue that what Trump has done is much more serious, certainly than the Clinton charges, basically lying about oral sex under oath and and trying to cover that up, or even the Nixon charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power. I think Trump has gone far beyond that. So, I think we’re clearly into given the historical precedent, we are well above the standards called for by the Nixon and Clinton impeachments.

MH: A clip I played an intro to the show was from Senator John Kennedy, Republican senator who said recently on CNN, that he’s offended by the impeachment process because it’s “the first partisan impeachment in the history of our country.” What do you say to him?

KK: I think he really needs to read some American history. Again, the Johnson impeachment was entirely partisan. The Clinton impeachment, almost entirely partisan, the Nixon one only at the very end did you finally get Republicans coming on board and so it’s a misread to say that these are always bipartisan affairs. A, it’s not true of the history, but also what we’ve seen in recent years with this current Republican party is that they have learned that the way to deny anything bipartisan support is simply to march in lockstep against it. This is what they did throughout the entirety of the Clinton or the Obama years. And they’ve done now with impeachment. And so of course, they’re not going to support this. I don’t think anyone should be surprised. It’s been what they’ve been doing for a decade now.

MHL And on that, you said, you know, this is a misreading of history. When you look at some of the arguments, one phrase that’s used often nowadays in American political coverage is bad faith. How much of what the Republicans are doing on impeachment, what they’re doing at the House Judiciary Committee, what they’re doing at the House Intelligence Committee, what the likes of Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz and Doug Collins and others have been saying and doing on air and in the committees, how much of that is bad faith, do you think?

KK: I can’t read their minds, but I can only read the record and I think if you look at the objections they made in the early stages about how the president isn’t having a chance to be involved in this. The president’s lawyer needs to be involved in this. And the president needs to be able to ask these witnesses. Well, the president was allowed to ask these witness questions today. He didn’t show up, or Wednesday didn’t show up. And so that is a really remarkable, I think, revelation that for all the complaints they made about this process not being fair, once the process met their terms, they gave up any interest in that.

MH: And I have to ask you this just on an aside, we now live in an age where “facts don’t matter” to at least one half of the political spectrum. You’re an expert on the American Conservative move. That’s one of the things you’ve written about and taught. How unique a moment is this in terms of American history when it comes to a group of politicians, “one half of the political spectrum” that simply doesn’t seem to inhabit the same factual reality as the rest of us? Is saying up is down, black is white, hot is cold, and on, you know, on camera, in Congress, in these hearings.

KK: It’s remarkable. We’ve always had a small group of people who have, you know, refused to agree with certain sets of facts. Usually they quibble with interpretation. That was the old conservative complaint about the media. That they’re spinning these facts wrong. You agreed with a basic set of facts, but you just put a different spin on them. And now it is just, it is up is down. Black is white. Night is day. And it was remarkable. And I think it’s dangerous.

MH: Yeah, it’s definitely dangerous, especially now at times like this, when you’re having an impeachment case affecting national security, affecting what might happen at the next election. You said in an article in USA Today, back in May, back when some of us were urging Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff and others to impeach Donald Trump for a whole host of other impeachable offenses that they’re not impeaching him for campaign finance violations to caging kids at the border to obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation. You wrote, “Democrats need to get past impeachment jitters. It’s not 1998 and Trump is no Clinton.” What did you mean by that?

KK: I think especially the House leadership really is one that came of age during the Clinton impeachment. They drew the wrong lessons from that. They’ve moved past this. But at the time when I wrote that what I meant was was a, they were worried about the polling of this. That it wasn’t polling well, and therefore they shouldn’t do it which neglected the fact that in the past with the Nixon impeachment, as soon as it began more people came around to it. We certainly saw that wind up being true, but also they were worried about the electoral backlash here. And they worried that the lesson they drew from 1998 was oh, Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, Republicans lost seats in the 1998 midterms. We shouldn’t do the same thing in 2018. But that ignored the fact that Clinton was wildly popular at the time. Throughout that year, he was in the high 60s in his polling. Trump has never been anywhere close that. The polls on should the president be impeached were fairly weak in 1998. They’re fairly strong today. There’s a majority today. And so I think they were just taking the wrong lessons from where the public’s mood was on this and they’ve extrapolated to that.

MH: You mentioned polls there, just to jump in, where does the 50% in the CNN poll this week that want to impeach and remove the president — 50% of Americans according to CNN polls — where does that and other similar polls, how does that compare to the Nixon polling and the Clinton polling?

KK: It’s remarkably stronger on both. The Clinton polling was, I think, you know, depends on which poll you looked at for impeachment and removal but it was really in the 20s and 30s. It was at best a third of the country was in favor of this. With Nixon, you didn’t get to the point of a majority being in favor of impeachment and removal until basically the Articles of Impeachment are being drawn up in the House and voted on. It is remarkably late. It’s weeks before, it’s just weeks before his resignation that they finally come around to this. And for a country even more polarized today where you’ve got this kind of alternative fact universe of Fox News and Sean Hannity and folks like that out there who are presenting an entirely different picture of this, the fact that we’re at 51% or so today — I don’t think I saw that CNN poll — but whatever the bare majority is, that’s remarkable given the media climate.

MH: Given it’s remarkable, you said a moment ago that you wrote your piece in May when the Democratic leadership in the House was more resistant to impeachment. You know, we’ve talked about it on the show a lot, Nancy Pelosi saying nonsense, like Trump is goading us into impeaching him. He’s not worth it. All that nonsense that she said before she was dragged kicking and screaming to open impeachment hearings. But are they actually keener today? I know they’re very strong on this whole Ukraine thing. They think it’s a clear case. They’re going to you know, get the vote possibly before Christmas. But I do wonder. There’s still a lot of discussion about wrap it up quickly. It’ll hurt us if it drags out. We should keep it narrow. Maybe we might include a Robert Mueller related impeachment clause, impeachment article. It still feels like they’re still very hesitant about this whole thing that they don’t think it’s working well for them.

KK: Yeah, I get the feeling that they want to get it over with. And again, I think if you look at the way in which the polling has moved on this. I don’t think the case is there to wrap it up. I think the more and more information comes to light, the more damning evidence there will be. And even Jonathan Turley, in Wednesday’s testimony, basically made the case for the need to call first hand witnesses like Mulvaney and others for this. Fine, do it. Get all those people on the, get all that evidence on the table and move beyond Ukraine, I would say. I think there’s another lesson to think about. The Clinton impeachment was very narrowly done on the lies to the Grand Jury about Lewinsky and a couple of related things. The Nixon impeachment was big and wide. It talked about his tax returns.

MH: Cambodia? Wasn’t Cambodia —

KK: Cambodia was on the table.

MH: It didn’t get a majority vote in the House but it was one of the articles put forward.

KK: It was one of the — bribes from the milk industry. There was a host of wrongdoing put on the table there, put it all out there.

MH: Andrew Johnson had a bunch of things thrown at him, I think it was what, 11 articles? I can’t remember how many articles were against him.

KK: Eleven.

MH: So yeah I don’t get this obsession with keeping it narrow to, I guess they think it’s to do with you know, it’s a national security issue. It involves Joe Biden. It’s clear. It’s open and shut, I guess.


MH: But if you’re going to go down the hassle of finally impeaching him, how can you not impeach him for all the other crap he’s done? I just find it just —

KK: Exactly right. Get it all on the table and especially if the Senate is as it seems to be under Mitch McConnell going to move through this fairly quickly and fairly at a kind of a surface level. Why rush to get to that stage? Take the time to lay out this case and to move public opinion maybe a couple points on this. But to make it more difficult for those the Senate Republicans to kind of sweep this under the rug.

MH: We are in agreement, I would also argue it would help the Democrats in the election campaign next year because when they bring up some of these issues, the public will be more familiar with them if they’ve been subjected to an impeachment hearing and to public testimonies. When they go back, I’m sure they’re going to want to bring up kids in cages. They’re going to want to bring up campaign finance violations last time around. They’re going to want to bring up obstruction of justice. Trump might say well, you didn’t impeach me for any of those things. You mentioned Mitch McConnell. Trump is not going to be convicted in the Senate. So will this all have been a waste of time? That’s what some Democrats even think, deep down.

KK: I don’t think so. I think I mean, I don’t think Mitch McConnell and the Republicans unless it goes incredibly south, incredibly quickly, are going to move to remove him. What you might see, though, is that if McConnell feels that his majority is in jeopardy, and it could be with people, like, you know, the senators in Maine and Colorado and other purple states are on the ballot, for whom a vote on this is a no-win scenario. Either they betray the Trump base, or they drive away the independence that they’ve always banked their reputation on. It’s a no win. And if McConnell realizes that those senators which are the number that give him the majority are going to go down and he’s gonna lose his majority with it, then he might try to pressure Trump behind the scenes. Whether Trump would resign like Nixon did when when Goldwater and Rhodes came to him, I don’t know. But even if he doesn’t, even if he stays and even if McConnell doesn’t pressure him, even if they move to acquit rather quickly, I do still think this is politically effective. That’s not the most important thing here. There are certain wrongdoings committed. The Constitution calls for remedy. Do it, put politics aside. But if you’re thinking about the politics, if you’re a Democrat worried there, I do think that this damages Trump across the board. It brings his crimes get light. It puts them on the defensive.

MH: No one wants to be impeached and subjected to a trial. I never understood this, that Nancy Pelosi, he wants to be impeached logic. Of all people, the most thin-skinned man to ever sit in the Oval Office did not want to be impeached.

KK: Exactly. And it’s clear I mean, how he’s reacting to it —

MH: Witch hunt! Hoax! Coup!

KK: But he’s not enjoying.

MH: Yeah, not a sober response for sure. You wrote in Vanity Fair in November, “Trump loyalists have now lashed themselves to the presidential mast and if Watergate is an American parable, most of them will go down.” What makes you so sure of that? Because I’m sitting here in Washington, DC, where I just had lunch three tables down from Kristjen Nielsen who was laughing her head off. There doesn’t seem to be consequences for a lot of these people who abuse their power.

KK: Well, Nielsen, you know, a member of the cabinet who is, you know, she could’ve eaten in public without harassment, you know, thanks to you. So that’s that’s nice, but I don’t think she’s going to have you know, many bright career opportunities. If you look at the people who really distinguished themselves or embarrassed themselves by defending Nixon through the bitter end, especially the congressman who were up for election that year, a lot of them went down. A few of them hung on for sure. And people like Reagan, who were outside of Congress survived and thrived later on. But in the short term, standing up for this president, as this case gets worse and worse and his culpability gets clearer and clearer is only going to drag a lot of these people down. I mean, we’ve seen you know, the first two congressmen to endorse Trump are in prison or heading there. Devin Nunez is now in trouble, it seems and I think other people might have some problems coming up soon, too. So I think at some point Congress is going to have to decide that they’re not there to be loyal to the President. They need to look out for their own skins and their own future.

MH: As a historian, is impeachment bad for America as a country? Will it leave this country more divided, more polarized, more weak than ever before? What does the past tell us?

KK: Well, as a historian, my answer to anything is a little bit yes, a little bit no. So, you could see at some levels, the impeachment is going to make the country more polarized. It just draws into relief the battle lines that have already been formed. At another level though, you can look at the immediate wake of Nixon’s impeachment and removal there was a real sense, I think, maybe a false optimism but a real sense that the country had come together through it. And so, impeachment can be a healing process. I think the country was less polarized in say, you know, late August 1974, than it had been in say, August of 1968, right?

MH: Although Nixon wasn’t the leader of a personality cult in the same way that Trump is. I suspect removing Trump, which won’t happen, but let’s say it did would lead to protests, if not riots from some in his base.

KK: It would lead to definitely protests from some of the base. But at the same time, I think you’d have that kind of the remainder of the Republican party would finally feel liberated to speak up and reclaim the party. So, it could go either way. Again, I’m a historian. My training’s in hindsight.

MH: Last question, I’ve got to ask you this. You spend some of your time on Twitter. I wouldn’t say a lot but some of your time on Twitter basically dragging Dinesh D’Souza, the conservative, far-right, ideologue, former criminal, self-styled historian. Why do you do that?

KK: I definitely don’t do it because I think I’m going to convince him that he’s wrong. I do it because he has a fairly large following on Twitter and he’s on Fox News all the time and so this message gets out there. And it used to be that historians like me would simply laugh him off and ignore him. But our silence was taken as our assent that he’d clearly done nothing wrong or we would have come out and corrected him. He said as much in fact, on Twitter.

MH: What do you make of his credentials as a historian?

KK: He doesn’t have any. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Dartmouth and that’s it.

MH: And just remind our listeners just who may not get a sense of how batshit crazy the modern conservative movement is represented not just by Donald Trump, but by Dinesh D’Souza. What’s the craziest thing he’s ever said about American history, do you think?

KK: We’d be here all day. I can’t, endless amounts. I mean, it’s less what he says than what he’s surprised about. It’s when he says things like, did you know — It’s like Trump. Did you know Lincoln was a Republican? Did you know Democrats are the party of slavery? Yes. Any grade school student in America knows that. That’s how we teach the Civil War. We don’t, we’re not hiding these basic facts and yet he’s constantly surprised by them. It’s remarkable.

MH: I admire your patience and your wit. Kevin Kruse, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

KK: My pleasure.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was historian Kevin Kruse of Princeton. You can follow him on Twitter, @KevinMKruse, K-R-U-S-E. I urge you to do so because he is so funny and so brilliant on that site.

And I agree with everything he said in that interview just now. He’s right that the Democrats have been too timid on all of this, that they should have gone bigger, that they’ve learned the wrong lessons from the history of impeachment, and that the Republicans, by the way, are straight up lying to you, lying to all of us, about that history.

But we are where we are. Let’s see what happens next. History is literally being made in front of our eyes.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That’s our show. And that’s it for this season of Deconstructed. We will have one more special show later this month, so listen out for that, but a new season of Deconstructed will return in mid-January. So, have a great break until then.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much. Happy holidays!

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