In the modern day, the name Richard Nixon is almost synonymous with political corruption. Of course, his policies are still admired by many conservatives, but it is difficult not to think of the infamous Watergate scandal whenever he is mentioned. But despite his actions in that scandal being so reviled in the eyes of history, Nixon never faced any legal repercussions for them.
On Feb. 13, former president Donald Trump was acquitted by the U.S. Senate for the second time in just over a year, confirming what many young people already suspected: our system of government is fundamentally broken.
One could spend hours explaining Trump’s verifiable role in the January storming of the Capitol, not to even mention his involvement in the 2019 Trump-Ukraine scandal that triggered his first impeachment. But several hours have already been spent explaining that by political and legal experts from across the country. Rather than trying to convince you of Trump’s guilt, I want to put his most recent acquittal into a broader perspective.
In elementary through high school, American children are taught that the U.S. government has a concrete system of checks and balances. Afterall, the nation was founded on a revolution against a tyrannical monarch. Our very constitution was written to prevent abuses of power from ever happening, right?
The fact is that Trump is not at all the first president to abuse his power. While he is only the third president to ever be impeached, there have been far more who were never impeached but were still involved in egregious scandals.
Apart from Nixon, one could look at Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra affair, Warren G. Harding’s Teapot Dome scandal or George W. Bush’s false claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Even looking at events that were not considered scandals at the time, but that still harmed millions, there’s Andrew Jackson’s genocidal Indian Removal Act, Woodrow Wilson’s open support for the Ku Klux Klan or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s forcing of Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during World War II. This is not even mentioning actions that could be considered war crimes, such as George W. Bush’s use of torture or Barack Obama’s use of drone strikes on civilians.
Trump’s scandals being so widely publicized and discussed is significant, though. It means that younger generations are growing up in a world where it is merely expected that powerful people will not be held accountable. After all, if the Constitution really did allow presidents to face meaningful consequences for their actions, Trump, along with every single president mentioned above, would have at least been removed from office.
If the U.S. government is to finally make good on its 200-year-old promise of checks and balances, something must change. The system as it currently stands simply does not allow for politicians to be brought to justice. If we let the executive branch remain virtually untouchable, we are doomed to a lifetime of Richard Nixons and Donald Trumps.