As a Senate staffer in the 1970s, U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) witnessed the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. This week, over four decades later, King voted in the impeachment trial of another president—Donald Trump. On Sunday afternoon, King hosted a listening session at the College to hear from constituents about their views on the impeachment proceedings.
The event came days before the Senate voted nearly along party lines on Wednesday to acquit Trump of charges that he abused the powers of his office and obstructed Congress in order to support his reelection. King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted to convict Trump of the charges leveled in both articles of impeachment. Maine’s other senator, Susan Collins (R-ME), voted to acquit on both charges.
Hundreds of attendees packed into Kresge Auditorium for the town-hall style event, with more filtering into an overflow room, to hear King talk about the impeachment proceedings and to express their fear and frustration about the president’s conduct. The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of King, greeting him with a standing ovation and praising his leadership and resolve. Every member of the audience who spoke at the event spoke out against Trump, whom they accused of violating the Constitution and abusing the power of the president.
“My faith is shaken in the system I’m teaching to my students—the system of checks and balances,” said John Dever, a high school social studies teacher from Bath. “I think this is a real crisis.”
King publicly opposed impeachment during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. However, after the Ukraine controversy arose, he changed his mind.
King said he considers the current situation as qualitatively different than the allegations contained in the Mueller investigation because the issue at hand concerns Trump’s actions during his presidency and potentially sets a precedent for future presidents.
King stated that he was particularly troubled by the second article of impeachment—alleged obstruction of a Congressional investigation—fearing Trump’s acquittal will have a lasting impact on the balance of power.
“The Congress has been committing slow-motion suicide for fifty years,” King said, referring to Congress’s delegation of powers of war, trade and spending to the president. “I fear this is another step in the direction of moving toward a presidency that is so strong.”
To explain the gravity of the Senate’s vote, King quoted Abraham Lincoln, who told Congress in December 1862, at the height of the Civil War: “Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history … The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”
Speaking about the vote in the impeachment trial, King said, “We’re all going to have to live with this vote. This is probably the most important vote any of us will take.”
King called on the audience to rise above party politics, citing a fundamental goodness present in Americans and the necessity of bipartisan cooperation.
“Part of what we have to do—all of us—is listen. Because a lot of the anger is from people who felt put down and not taken seriously. We cannot go on divided the way we are,” King said. “Somebody said after the last election, ‘what do we need in the country?’ The phrase that came to my mind is ‘eloquent listening.’”
Morgan Edwards ’22, the only student to speak at the event, read a tweet from Kersti Kaljulaid, the President of Estonia, criticizing Trump’s opposition to calling witnesses at the trial, and asked King what effect Trump’s behavior would have on America’s international standing.
In his response, King cited his previous experience as a lawyer.
“I’ve never seen a trial that starts with closing arguments,” King said.
Speaking specifically about calling former National Security Advisor John Bolton as a witness, King added, “How could anyone not vote for this?”
The sole representative of the student body at the event, Edwards said he was not surprised by the lack of student engagement with King. He thinks students are apathetic because “the conclusion is foregone—[Trump’s] acquittal is imminent.”
“I have found myself being increasingly apathetic because I feel hopeless. There is obvious evidence of guilt … I mean if this isn’t impeachable then what is?” Edwards said. “And if our leaders aren’t going to represent us in a way that takes action to say, ‘yes, he is guilty,’ I think that breeds apathy, especially among young people.”
King echoed this sentiment in an interview with the Orient following the event, expressing concern with the ethos of the Trump presidency.
“I think a lot of young people feel distance [from the trial], asking ‘does it involve me?’ I think there is a disenchantment with government, and therefore [they are asking the question] ‘why bother to watch?’” he said.
Toward the end of King’s public remarks, President Lincoln came up once more.
Nora Bishop from Bowdoinham called for an end to the divisiveness of the moment and asked King what could be done to unify the nation. She began to quote from Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained …”
She paused, attempting to remember the rest of the quote. But King was there to help. “It must not break our bonds of affection,” he said.
They finished the quote together: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”