As the House of Representatives recently impeached President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Vanderbilt student organizations of all political stripes have shared statements outlining their positions on impeachment. This is only the third time in history that the House has held such a vote, and Vanderbilt’s campus is an interesting microcosm of how Americans view this consequential moment.
Vanderbilt College Democrats
President Will Newell of Vanderbilt College Democrats argues that “the factual and legal case for impeachment is strong. In fact, Congressional Republicans have done little to refute the substance of the arguments in favor of impeachment. The “holes” they have poked in Democrats’ arguments do not square with the reality of the testimonies we saw last month, nor do they hold up in light of statements from people like Rudy Giuliani and President Trump themselves.”
Vanderbilt College Republicans
On the contrary, Vanderbilt College Republicans President Will Fritzler opposes the impeachment of President Trump, referring to the constitutional standard for impeachment of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” He argues that “Presidents pursuing political gain through foreign policy is hardly unprecedented in American history,” and that Trump’s actions were “unwise but well short of ‘high crimes.’”
Young Americans for Liberty
Grace Cancelmo, Donald Hall, and Ben Nissing of Young Americans for Liberty contend, “The impeachment seems pretty meaningless right now. The election is coming up and that will be pretty reflective of the public’s opinion on Trump and whether or not impeachment is warranted.” In terms of the legal substance of the case for impeachment, YAL suggests that “Trump probably did commit impeachable offenses,” but that many elected officials violate their constitutional duties and that the House’s motivations are first and foremost political.
Vanderbilt Young Democratic Socialists of America
Nico Gardner, President of Vanderbilt Young Democratic Socialists of America, supports impeaching President Trump but expresses frustration with House leadership’s tactics: “The Democrats in the House were right to begin the impeachment process; President Trump committed treason, has abused his office and is a threat to marginalized and working class people across the country.” However, YDSA believes that impeachment proceedings should have begun much sooner, predominantly due to Trump’s controversial immigration policies. In Gardner’s words, “There are kids in cages in this country, and that itself is enough for impeachment.”
College Republicans and College Democrats disagree on the legitimacy of Trump’s efforts to have Joe Biden’s son Hunter investigated. VCR states “Information on a candidate’s potentially nefarious connections” is not “anything close to election interference or subversion of our democracy.” On the other hand, VCD points to statements from Trump and Rudy Giuliani, such as Giuliani explaining that he needed to remove U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch because he wanted her “out of the way.” Consequently, College Democrats argues, “If Trump’s motives were legitimate, he would not have needed to abruptly fire a highly-regarded public servant to get her out of his way.”
Young Americans for Liberty and Young Democratic Socialists both view the Ukraine scandal and subsequent impeachment as part of a long-term issue, but the groups drastically disagree on what the larger issue is. YAL explains, “It seems this will be yet another political move that will likely further polarize the nation [and distract] from the current disastrous state of our government, in its continued expansion, and growing deficit.” YDSA believes that “the only way to defeat Trumpism is through the creation of a bold, progressive, working class coalition.”
Vanderbilt students also differ on the potential effects of impeachment. Members of YAL claim, “not much will happen as a result, as has been the case historically.” Taking the exact opposite stance, YDSA pleads that it was a grave mistake to decline to impeach over immigration: “It is impossible to say how many lives could have been saved if the Democrats had begun the impeachment process then.”
Numerous Vanderbilt faculty members, notably Professor and presidential biographer Jon Meacham, have also taken a public stance on impeachment, with seven professors signing the powerful Historians’ Statement on the Impeachment of President Trump. The statement condemns President Trump’s “numerous and flagrant abuses of power,” adding that “It is considered our judgment that if President Trump’s misconduct does not rise to the level of impeachment, then virtually nothing does.” The following Vanderbilt faculty members added their names to this letter: Celia Applegate, David Carlton, Jane Landers, Jon Meacham, Daniel Sharfstein, Arleen Tuchman, and Daniel Usner.
The impeachment-related discourse at Vanderbilt reflects the wide variety of views held by Americans on the subject. Nevertheless, Vanderbilt students across the political spectrum agree that Americans should examine the primary sources, such as testimony and documentation, and develop an informed opinion for themselves.
On behalf of VPR, I would like to express gratitude to all of the students willing to share their perspectives for this article. Their full statements can be found here.