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Fri Dec 20, 2019, 03:50 PM

A blood curdling parallel: Trump is the ghost of Andrew Johnson

To save our country, I sincerely believe we must become a (non-violent) army of democracy nerds, beginning with this great article in Mother Jones:

IMPEACHMENT
Trump’s Not Richard Nixon. He’s Andrew Johnson.

Betrayal. Paranoia. Cowardice. We’ve been here before.

TIM MURPHY
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/12/trumps-not-richard-nixon-hes-andrew-johnson/

It’s not hard to think of a historical precedent for President Donald Trump’s attempts to trade military assistance to the Ukrainian government for actionable dirt on his chief political rival. The pathetic desperation of the crime itself, the bungling attempt at a cover-up, the incriminating transcript—“it really is stupid Watergate,” one Democrat told the Washington Post in September. The similarities to the scandal that forced Richard Nixon from office in 1974 extend to the people talking about it. An attorney on Nixon’s House impeachment committee, Bill Weld, is running for president. John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, and Carl Bernstein, who helped break the scandal, are CNN contributors. A Nixon dirty trickster, Roger Stone, recently went on trial for doing more of the same for Trump. And of course there’s Trump himself, channeling Nixon’s appeals to the “silent majority” and “law and order,” and pillorying the “enemy” press. There’s even an attempt to cover up a break-in at the Democratic National Committee—read the partial transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainians and you’ll find the president floating a cheese-brained conspiracy theory absolving Russia of its 2016 hacking of the DNC.

But coverage of the Trump fiasco is focus­ing on the wrong impeachment. The best parallel to Trump isn’t Nixon; it’s Andrew Johnson, a belligerent and destructive faux-populist who escaped conviction in the Senate by the thinnest of margins. Yet for more than a century, the official narrative of the first presidential impeachment has been butchered and distorted, reduced to a historical curiosity, a showdown between two irresponsible factions in which voices of reason ultimately triumphed. You were likely taught (if you were taught at all) that the 1868 fight to remove Johnson from office centered on an obscure and dubious law, the Tenure of Office Act, and that “Radical” Republicans—their influence inflated in the aftermath of the Civil War—overstepped their bounds in a quest for even more power.

Andrew Johnson was a sort of anti-­Lincoln—a stumpy, vengeful, subliterate tailor who rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party in East Tennessee by railing against elites. In 1861, he was the only Southern senator to stay loyal to the Union, leaving him not only without a state but largely without a party. Lincoln appointed him military governor of Tennessee, and later, hoping to shore up his support ahead of his reelection campaign, added Johnson to the ticket. Johnson showed up drunk to his own swearing-in, then hid out at a friend’s house in Maryland, ashamed to show his face. A few weeks later, Lincoln was murdered and Johnson was president. As the historian Brenda Wineapple explains in her lively 2019 book, The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation, the road to impeachment began in the violence and political turmoil that followed the assassination, as Johnson wrestled with Republicans in Congress about what postwar Reconstruction should look like. The impeachment process was rife with bumbling and paranoia, but nonetheless centered on a profound question: whether the nation would continue on its path toward a pluralistic democracy or revert to the white supremacist state that had existed before Fort Sumter.

Alarm bells began to sound early on. Johnson was erratic. He was wavering. Frederick Douglass met with him at the White House and came away disturbed. In the meeting, the president had suggested deporting millions of freedmen and appeared not to know that Douglass had been enslaved. Johnson granted mass amnesties to Confederate soldiers and appointed ex-Confederates to key posts. In the spring and summer of 1866, a wave of racial pogroms broke out in the cities of the former Confederacy, targeting African Americans—34 killed in New Orleans; 46 killed in Memphis. Why hadn’t Johnson done anything to stop it? Why was he suddenly blocking every effort by Congress to bring white supremacist violence in the South under control? People who had once seemed enthusiastic about the project ahead were beginning to talk about the I-word.


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