The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump last night, a decision that fell almost entirely along party lines.
As I noted yesterday, some House members have been trying to impeach the president for years and undoubtedly see yesterday’s vote as a vindication of their efforts. On the opposite side of the spectrum, some see the House Democrats as attacking the president unfairly and are even more likely to support him.
This marks only the third time in American history a president has been impeached. Few events in American political life are as potentially significant and insignificant at the same time.
A vote that could change nothing or everything
There are three ways to interpret what happened in the House of Representatives yesterday.
In one sense, the House vote may change nothing. The Republican-controlled Senate is widely expected to acquit the president when his trial begins in early January. If it does, he will stay in office and will be free to run for reelection in 2020.
In a second sense, the House vote dramatically changes history. Even if the Senate acquits the president, impeachment will forever be part of the record of his administration. And if the Senate removes him from office, America will obviously never be the same.
In a third sense, we do not yet know the future significance of yesterday’s action. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House could at least temporarily hold its articles of impeachment from the Senate, depending on how the latter chooses to conduct its trial on the president’s removal.
Even if the Senate acquits the president, we do not know the effect of impeachment on his future. President Andrew Johnson survived impeachment in 1868, lost his party’s nomination for reelection later that year, then won back his old Senate seat in 1875. President Bill Clinton survived impeachment in 1999 and left office in January 2001 with a 65 percent approval rating, the highest of any of his predecessors in half a century.
Assuming that President Trump is acquitted, undecided voters may see his impeachment as a reason to vote for or against him next year. The divided House of Representatives may achieve greater unity in the future, or its action may signal a new era in which impeachment becomes another tool in oppositional politics.
Until the Senate acts on the House vote, and perhaps for years afterward, we will have a limited perspective by which to judge the ultimate significance of yesterday’s action.
Visiting the Reagan Library
This balance between the now and the not-yet pervades every dimension of our world. You and I experience life in the present moment. But we also experience life as a continuum in which yesterday becomes today which flows into tomorrow.
This balance means that every moment is intrinsically significant, for it holds our past and our future in its hands. As a result, we must do all we can to be as faithful to our calling as we can while we can.
Yesterday, my wife and I visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Southern California. As we toured this marvelous facility, we were struck by several of President Reagan’s quotes on display.
For instance, in his State of the Union address in 1984, the president stated: “Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”
How can the same be said of us?
“You eat, but you never have enough”
One option is to ignore the future for the sake of the present. However, such shortsightedness impoverishes both the future and the present.
The Lord said to the exiles who returned to Judah and rebuilt their homes while ignoring the house of God: “You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm” (Haggai 1:6). What we have without God is never as significant as what we can have with him.
A second option is to ignore the present for the sake of the future. However, such speculation impoverishes both the future and the present.
The Lord counseled his returned exiles: “Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord” (vv. 7–8). Rather than speculate about God’s future judgment, we should obey his present call. Then our present obedience will lead to his present and eternal reward.
“God wants to use us as he used his own Son”
The significance of yesterday’s impeachment vote awaits the verdict of history. But it also illustrates the urgency of serving our divided nation and our sovereign King with a courageous witness and compassionate grace.
Oswald Chambers: “It is only the loyal soul who believes that God engineers circumstances. We take such liberties with our circumstances, we do not believe God engineers them, although we say we do; we treat the things that happen as if they were engineered by men.”
As a result, “God is made a machine for blessing men, and Jesus Christ is made a Worker among workers.” Our Lord intends the opposite: “The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us.”
Here is the bottom line: “God wants to use us as He used His own Son.”
How fully can God use you today?