Presidential Scholar Douglas Brinkley on Why He Signed the Letter Supporting Impeachment and How History Will Judge the Trump ImpeachmentHistorians in the News
tags: historians, Douglas Brinkley, impeachment, Trump
Presidential scholar Douglas Brinkley was one of more than 750 historians, including Ken Burns, Sean Wilentz, Ron Chernow, and Robert Caro, who signed an open letter this week declaring that President Trump’s actions “urgently and justly require his impeachment.” Brinkley, a professor at Rice University and regular on CNN, has written books on Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Teddy Roosevelt, and edited a two volume series, The Nixon Tapes.
“I’m a student of Watergate,” Brinkley says. “I was alive and doing cable TV and journalism during Clinton’s impeachment. What I see happening with Trump seems to me far worse.”
As Congress debated impeachment this week, Brinkley made time to discuss his decision to sign the letter, the immediate and long term impact of Trump’s likely trial and whether the president will be remembered as a seminal figure or a “McCarthyism spasm.”
What went into your decision to sign the letter?
The big warning that I tell students about is George Washington’s fear of a foreign government interfering in our elections. President Trump seems to constantly be wanting to stoke that horrific act. He feels that he can get advantage by collaborating with Russia and Ukraine in unseemly ways. It’s exactly what our founders were worried about. Benjamin Franklin, in a funny speech, once talked about how the public will know – most humans will know – when a president behaves with an unacceptable obnoxiousness. We all see what Trump did with Ukraine was beyond the pale. The larger question becomes should historians be engaged in our public affairs or should we write our books and be quiet. I think these are troubled times and you need all hands on deck. Legal scholars and historians need to speak up because they’ve spent decades writing books on people like Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, or have studied Watergate closely. It’s important that they use their public voices to answer the question of whether what Trump did is impeachable or not.
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