Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Donald Trump has regularly used Twitter to conduct official business, going so far as to use the social media platform to announce policies and the firing of cabinet officials. Over the last week, he has used Twitter to attack those he views as enemies and react to the fact that the House has launched an impeachment investigation. For example, on Saturday, he tweeted this.

Not only did the president call Democratic members of congress “savages,” he singled out four women of color and two Jewish men for that attack. That is no coincidence.

On Sunday, he accused a member of congress of committing treason.

As Brendan Nyhan noted, this is not a drill.

Later Sunday night, the president quote-tweeted Robert Jeffress, one of the court evangelicals.

Apparently, threatening “a civil war like fracture” was a bridge too far for at least one Republican member of congress, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran who served as a pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With all of the investigations into Trump’s actions, we can become inured to his rants on Twitter. But this is the president of the United States referring to his opponents as savages, calling for a member of congress to be investigated for treason, and threatening a Civil War like fracture in the country if he is removed from office.

Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of an official impeachment inquiry, historians have been recalling the precedents set by the three previous occasions when a president was impeached. It is particularly worth noting Article Ten of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

That said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, unmindful of the high duties of his office and the dignity and proprieties thereof, and of the harmony and courtesies which ought to exist and be maintained between the executive and legislative branches of the government of the United States, designing and intending to set aside the rightful authority and powers of Congress, did attempt to bring into disgrace, ridicule, hatred, contempt and reproach the Congress of the United States, and the several branches thereof, to impair and destroy the regard and respect of all the good people of the United States for the Congress and legislative power thereof, (which all officers of the government ought inviolably to preserve and maintain,) and to excite the odium and resentment of all the good people of the United States against Congress and the laws by it duly and constitutionally enacted; and in pursuance of his said design and intent, openly and publicly, and before divers assemblages of the citizens of the United States convened in divers parts thereof to meet and receive said Andrew Johnson as the Chief Magistrate of the United States, did, on the eighteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-six, and on divers other days and times, as well before as afterward, make and deliver with a loud voice certain intemperate, inflammatory and scandalous harangues, and did therein utter loud threats and bitter menaces as well against Congress as the laws of the United States duly enacted thereby, amid the cries jeers and laughter of the multitudes then assembled and in hearing…

Standards of propriety might have changed since Johnson was impeached in 1868. But there can be no doubt that Donald Trump’s intent is to “excite the odium and resentment of all the good people of the United States against Congress.” Regardless of whether he is doing so via tweets or speeches, he is committing the same offense for which Johnson was impeached.

With all of Trump’s other offenses, this kind of incitement is not likely to be included in articles of impeachment brought against him. But it is worth noting that, based on precedent, they could—and perhaps should be. This president’s rhetoric is dangerous for two reasons.

  1. As we’ve seen with several of the mass shootings, it incites violence from some of his more unstable supporters, and
  2. It undermines the very pillars on which our democracy rests. To ignore that is to invite further erosion.

The issue isn’t just about the individuals Trump named in his tweets. As one of Trump’s advisors told Maggie Haberman, “the president, whose own approval ratings have stayed upside down, needs voters to feel negatively not just about his opponents but about longstanding institutions.” In other words, the more Trump feels threatened, the more he attacks both his opponents and American institutions. That is precisely what happened over the weekend with these tweets from the president. To ignore that is to normalize his rhetoric, which is unacceptable and amounts to an impeachable offense.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.