Impeachment Redux: A Show Trial (EP. 302)

Impeachments are not judicial proceedings; they are entirely political. They fit the definition of a show trial perfectly.
Impeachments are not judicial proceedings; they are entirely political.


Impeachments throughout history have been entirely political proceedings, with voting almost entirely along party lines. Juries in criminal proceedings vote in accordance with the evidence as they see it. Congress votes along party lines.

That is the subject of today’s 10 minute episode.


Armed with the knowledge that voting follows party lines and not the evidence, then why do we have impeachments, and why do we bother following them? A. Political Theater is useful for politicians, and entertaining for us. And impeachments allow us further opportunities to vent. Impeachments have nothing to do with determining innocence or guilt; they are show trials with the outcome predetermined.

Let’s pause for the definition of a show trial: “A trial held in public with the intention of influencing or satisfying public opinion, rather than ensuring justice.” (Oxford Languages). History is rife with samples of show trials, almost always in totalitarian countries. But Revolutionary France had more than its share of show trials, followed by public executions by guillotine. Much to the delight of the assembled mobs.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul declared former President Trump’s second impeachment trial “dead on arrival” after 45 Senate Republicans voted against holding the proceeding, viewing it as unconstitutional. Given that it takes 67 Senators to convict, and that 55 at best will vote that way, this current impeachment is, by definition, a show trial.

Andrew Johnson, Democrat, and the 17th President, was impeached in 1868. The vote to impeach was generally along party lines, with 122 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting Yea, and 2 Republicans and 45 Democrats voting Nay. The heavily Republican Senate almost succeeded in removing Johnson, voting 35-19 in favor of conviction–one vote shy of the 36 needed for a ⅔ majority. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 along party lines, and the vote in the Senate not to convict was also along party lines.

The third US President ever to be impeached was Donald Trump, whose first impeachment vote also adhered to party doctrine, even more strictly than either the Johnson or Clinton votes. 

The only President who was ever removed due to an impeachment process was Richard Nixon, who escaped sure impeachment and conviction by resigning. He escaped forced removal by removing himself.

The obvious question is whether impeaching a President is an honest, fact-finding procedure to determine guilt or innocence, or whether it is simply a political tool. The evidence seems clear; it is a political tool, used as a blunt instrument by both parties. It is impossible for me to believe that any fact-finding process, regardless of the century, 19th, 20th or 21st, and with very different articles of impeachment, purporting to mete out justice, would always, with every vote, be decided along party lines. I trust it is impossible for you to believe it, either.

Imagine for a moment that Democratic and Republican jurors in court trials had, over the decades and centuries, consistently voted for guilt or innocence along party lines in all sorts of cases; robbery, fraud, treason, and so on. Consistently, in all different crimes and in all different decades. Unimaginable; it would be a sad, illegal and continuing series of triumphs of politics over justice in our courts. But that’s exactly what Congress does each and every time with the impeachment process.

1t was 130 years between the first two impeachments; it was only 21 years until the third. And about a year until the fourth. Show trials are becoming downright popular. I happen to think that the Constitution allows for the impeachment of a former President. In Mr. Trump’s case, he cannot be removed from office, but he can be barred from holding federal office in the future. That consequence remains, so I believe the process is Constitutional. And it is still all for show.

Here’s a fun thought. In sports, if the refs make an egregiously bad call, they will often make an equally bad call the other way; this is called a “make-up call.” Trump’s first impeachment was based on a callous fiction–the equivalent of an egregious call in sports. This impeachment has more going for it; should Congress just walk away, giving Mr. Trump a makeup call? That’s likely not to happen; after all, sports are more fair than politics.

So, Will, if impeachments, at least as seen to date, are purely political, does that make them wrong? A. In a word, yes. Clearly. Impeachments are being used as political weapons to reverse a previous election, or influence a coming election. The delicious irony is that the consensus among political observers is that Clinton’s impeachment helped him greatly with his favorability ratings, as it seems it might with Trump. Is there Karma even in politics?

Recalls are another often misused tool. They are misused in the sense that if some voters do not like the outcome of an election, they will use the recall to force an election do-over, in the same way that impeachment is most often used as an election do-over. 

Today’s Key Point. Impeachments and recalls were not designed to rectify a previous election because a group thinks that the voters made the wrong decision–or they might make a bad choice in the future. These tools were not designed to provide a remedy if that group or groups feel that all of the incumbent’s policies are terribly wrong and are certain to take that entity, city, state or nation, in entirely the wrong direction. That’s what elections are for. If your side lost the last election, do a better job and win the next one. Don’t try to rewrite the rules and have a do-over. 

If you love politics and feel that it is important, then work your butt off to get your candidate elected during the current election process. If you love where you live, support whoever is in office at the time in the hopes that they, and you and your neighbors, will be free to succeed and prosper. Even if you think that that incumbent is dead wrong every time he opens his mouth. 

And work to ensure that every legitimate vote is counted, and that only legitimate votes are counted. As importantly, let’s work together to convince ourselves and others that the right to vote comes with a huge responsibility. The responsibility to do deep, frequent and intelligent research on the candidates and the issues–going far deeper than simply listening to and believing the sources that are saying what we already believe. No, we do not need get out the vote campaigns that produce more voters. We need campaigns that will produce better voters. 

Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know. 

As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty. 1 Corinthians 16:14


As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the episodes with comments or questions about this episode or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, @willluden, Facebook,, and LinkedIn, And you can subscribe on your favorite device through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

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4 Responses

  1. James Kuhn Reply

    Interesting, Will, that you think a former President can be impeached. I can’t find that enumerated in the Constitution. Can you help me?

    • Will Luden Reply

      Jim, great question; I have heard arguments on both sides. The main point in the episode was that all impeachments to date, including Trumps’, are show trials, having nothing to do with fair adjudication of guilt or innocence. And that approach to impeachments certainly violates the spirit of the Constitution, if not the letter. I did take the position that because there was a remaining consequence that would apply to a former President. i.e., being barred from future federal office, that my guess is that the proceeding is Constitutional. But still a sham show trial. What are your thoughts?

  2. Charles Cabral Reply

    And had the Dems not wasted their credibility on the first one on very questionable grounds, they might have had a better chance of succeeding, or at least some respect for their motives, this time around.

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