What standard should be used to assess presidential misconduct during the Trump presidency? How should the public, press, Congress, and bureaucracy resist and punish executive misconduct? Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today
(The New Press, 2019) insists we must look back to look forward. The book provides a comprehensive study of American presidents' misconduct and their response to charges against them. The book provides a unique context by which to understand and evaluate the impeachment of Donald Trump.
The origins of the book are unique. During the 1974 Nixon impeachment hearings, committee leaders ask a group of historians to catalogue presidential misconduct – in 8 weeks. This updated edition provides case studies through the presidency of Barack Obama as well as an excellent introduction by James M. Banner, Jr.
(one of the original authors of the 1974 study who also provides chapters on Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe). Jeremi Suri
’s analysis of Ronald Reagan’s presidency (EPA, HUD, illegal lobbying, Pentagon bribes and kickbacks, Savings and Loan, Iran-Contra) concludes that Reagan’s personal integrity contrasts with the managerial negligence and deregulation that “encouraged corruption and law-breaking.” Although Reagan did not profit personally, his penchant for deregulation and dislike of confrontation created an environment which made possible crimes committed by others. In her chapter on Bill Clinton, Kathryn Cramer Brownell
highlights how changes in television and cable (the twenty-four hour news) impacted the presidency. Through an analysis of Travelgate, Whitewater, 1996 Campaign Finance Violations, and Monica Lewinsky, Brownell concludes that the “line between public and private life, as well as the public’s distinction between the two, disappeared during the Clinton administration.” During the podcast, Brownell expands on complex issues of gender and the separation of public and private.
The podcast concludes with thoughts on how a historical review of presidential misconduct informs our understanding of the impeachment of President Trump and the impact of public vigilance in American politics.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of
Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013).