I’m writing this in the early morning hours of November 13, weeks before you’ll read it on the newsstands. Between the time I write it and you read it, the world may have changed drastically — and probably has — but here’s a snapshot at this moment in time.
It is the first day of the Trump Impeachment Hearings. Actually, the ”failing New York Times” is calling it Public Hearings on the Trump Impeachment Inquiry, which sounds more or less ominous depending on what you read into it and which direction you lean politically. Despite the build-up to what likely will be an historic day, all I can think of is “Here we go again.”
I remember the Clinton impeachment hearings as if they were held yesterday instead of 21 years ago. Back then, as a young, idealistic journalist working at a downtown corporation, I was the only Democrat in an office filled with blood-red conservatives, all working for a staunch, very Christian Republican guy who hated anything liberal, especially anything Clinton.
For those who weren’t around at the time and didn’t study American history (They still teach that stuff in school these days, don’t they?), at the heart of the Clinton impeachment hearings were allegations that the president had illegally lied about and covered up a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House employee. It was, indeed, sordid stuff, with testimony and evidence that included a stained blue dress and a damp cigar.
I kept my head down throughout most of the impeachment hearings, which lasted through the fall of ‘98 and into the winter. While the internet had already been invented, it was nothing like we have today. We still depended on newspapers and television for trial updates. Just as I had done with the OJ trial a few years earlier, I went home for lunch every day to let out Sam (my dog) and catch the latest news via CNN before heading back to an information black hole.
The House of Representatives formally adopted articles of impeachment against President Clinton — for perjury and obstruction of justice — on Saturday, Dec. 19, 1998. That following Monday at the office, I felt naked and alone sitting at my tiny desk, surrounded by a gang of chortling, teasing bullies who were literally slapping high-fives in their J.C. Penney power suits. It went on all day.
Finally, at the lowest point, when I was ready to walk out of there and throw my career away, I received a care package from the folks in the public relations office a few floors up — Democrats all. Ken, that office’s soft-spoken admin with a heart of gold, handed me an 8 x 10 glossy with a warm smile and said, “Knowing what you’re going through down here, we all thought you’d need this about now.”
It was a press photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton with a fake signature that said, “Hang in there, we’ll get through this. Your friend, Bill.” I grinned, glancing over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.
I thought I’d get unholy shit about the photo, but I took a plastic thumbtack and stuck it to the blue-felt wall of my tiny cubicle, where it hung for the rest of an afternoon filled with in-your-face wise-cracks about the Pervert in Chief.
In fact, that photo stayed hanging in my cubical throughout the coming weeks of the Senate trial where Clinton was ultimately acquitted on both counts. It hung there through the midterm elections, where Democrats picked up valuable House seats (though Republicans still controlled Congress). And throughout the remaining years of Clinton’s term, where he left with the highest end-of-office approval rating of any U.S. president since World War II.
No one was laughing at me anymore.
Though Republicans controlled the Senate at the time, everyone knew they didn’t have enough votes to kick Clinton out. What he’d done was foolish, embarrassing and stupid, but in my mind (and many others), his actions seemed more silly than criminal. That was decades before the #metoo movement, and I have no doubt that if the exact situation presented itself today, just about any president would be impeached by both houses of Congress … except for Trump.
Today, like back then, we all kind of know how Trump’s impeachment will end, though this time the stakes seem higher.
While Clinton’s impeachment was characterized by a pathetic sadness that comes with watching a hero fall from grace, Trump’s impeachment burns bright with anger from both sides of the political spectrum.
Despite everyone in my office disliking Clinton back then, no one tried to take down that photograph; no one made fun of me for having it. They might hate the guy, but they respected the office. As the gavel drops to open the hearings later this morning, I like to think somewhere out there a young, idealistic office worker has a photo of Donald Trump hanging in his cubicle. If you see him, no matter how you lean politically, try cutting the guy some slack.
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.