Students on the Program in Washington, D.C., for the spring 2020 semester.

Hamilton’s Common Ground program ventured to the nation’s capital on Jan. 29 where a dozen students in the Washington, D.C., Program and about 20 area alumni engaged in discussion around a current hot-button topic — impeachment.

Phil Klinkner, the James S. Sherman Professor of Government, and John Vecchione ’86 discussed the historical and constitutional roots of impeachment, as well as their views on the current impeachment of President Donald Trump.                                                               

common ground

Panel discussion “Impeachment Pro and Con,”  Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m. in the Chapel

upcoming common ground events

Klinkner opened the event by examining American political polarization, the implications of executive authority, and intentions of the Constitutional Framers.

“In part because of partisan gridlock, because things aren’t getting done, I think there’s more pressure for presidents to push boundaries to get things accomplished,” Klinkner said. He went on to explain the fears of the Framers, many of whom advocated for an impeachment provision in the Constitution as a response to the unilateral strength of the British monarchy.

Vecchione’s experience in litigation provided an interesting perspective on the topic. Where Klinkner analyzed the issue from a political scientist’s viewpoint, Vecchione examined the constitutional language concerning impeachment, as well as Trump’s case, as it would apply in a legal sense. “The standard for impeachment is clear. It’s bribery, treason, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” Vecchione said. “It’s pretty clear from the Constitution that there was no federal common law at the time of the Framers.”

While Klinkner and Vecchione represented different sides of the issue — in the case of Trump, Klinkner took a pro-impeachment stance, while Vecchione presented the argument against — they emphasized that the main goal was civil, productive, and informative discussion. “I didn’t want to make it a debate,” Klinkner said. “It’s more to try to understand the issues and perspectives than it is to score points or determine a winner.”

Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions, many of which speculated about the future of America’s political landscape, in particular the expanding power of the executive branch. “Congress has a lot of ways to take back its power,” Vecchione said. “It mainly doesn’t do that because of partisanship. Making the hard decisions is not something it’s wanted to do for quite a while.”

Vecchione and Klinkner’s discussion put the events of the past few months in clear perspective, both for alumni following the proceedings and for students discussing impeachment in an academic setting. At the conclusion of the talk, the alumni who attended remained to chat informally with students, giving them the opportunity to network and learn more about the DC area.

“The presentation brought our class readings and discussions to life,” Alex Reboredo ’22 said. “It was interesting to watch a Common Ground event that introduced a perspective I never really considered. It was a great example of being able to disagree with someone and still have civil conversations.”

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