- Understand the Constitutional basis and historical precedents for impeachment.
- Develop media source analysis skills.
- Distinguish between opinion and fact.
- Consider evidence, bias, audience, and author expertise to assess source reliability.
- Compare and contrast opinions about the potential impeachment of President Trump.
Note to Teachers
In the current political climate, discussing the impeachment inquiry into President Trump is likely to elicit strong responses from students who hold differing opinions. Before you begin this lesson, you may want to review our resource guide, Teaching about Controversial Issues: A Resource Guide. It is important to establish guidelines before beginning this lesson. You may also find it helpful to reach out to parents beforehand to let them know how you plan to approach this topic objectively and respectfully.
Consider teaching this lesson over the course of two or more class periods. You might assign the introductory reading as homework the night before to leave more time for media source analysis in class, followed by a class discussion.
Monitoring the Situation (optional)
How to impeach a president is a short video from Vox that provides an overview of the historical origins of the impeachment process and explores three examples of presidential impeachment.
In the Classroom
Have students, individually or in pairs, brainstorm what they know or have heard about the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Ask students to share their reactions. What events led up to the impeachment inquiry? Why is impeachment controversial? You may wish to share with students the whistleblower complaint and the White House record of the phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine.
Tell students that controversial political issues are often discussed in the media. Ask students whether they think journalists and other producers of media can be objective when dealing with an issue about which people have such strong and differing opinions. Should writers always strive to be objective? Why or why not? Explain that the class will be looking at sources that express conflicting opinions about impeachment.
2. Impeachment and its Historical Precedents
Distribute “The Constitution, the Impeachment Process, and Historic Examples” to all students. Ask students to read the handout silently and to circle words or phrases they do not understand. Clarify any questions.
Invite students to share their views on the following questions:
- Is the Constitution clear about when and why a president should be removed from office? Where is the language more ambiguous? (Refer to the text of Article II, Section 4.)
- Has a U.S. president ever been removed from office through the impeachment process? Briefly review the three historical examples.
- Looking at the composition of the current 116th Congress, how might Democratic or Republican majorities in the House and Senate influence the impeachment process?
3. Reviewing Steps for Source Analysis
Distribute “Source Set A—Pro-Impeachment Inquiry,” “Source Set B—Anti-Impeachment Inquiry,” and “Evaluating Media Sources” to all students. (The handouts include excerpts of some of the longer sources. For the full text of all sources, please see the list of links below.) Review the steps for reading and evaluating sources outlined in “Evaluating Media Sources.” In particular, be sure that students understand the difference between a fact and an opinion. Remind students that the difference between facts and opinions is not always obvious, and that an author may selectively use facts to support their opinion. You may also want to suggest to students some steps for verifying sources and checking facts.
4. Evaluating Media Sources
Form groups of two or three, and assign each group at least one source from Source Set A and at least one source from Source Set B. (Students could also work individually.) Tell students to read or view their assigned sources. As they do this, they should follow the guidelines that you reviewed with them in “Evaluating Media Sources” and complete the handout.
Source Set A: Pro-Impeachment Inquiry
Source 1: A tweet from former Republican Governor of Ohio John Kasich, September 23, 2019.
Source 2: “Seven freshman Democrats: These allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect,” an op-ed in The Washington Post, September 23, 2019.
Source 3: Statement by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announcing a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, September 24, 2019.
Source 4: “Democrats’ only choice is to impeach Trump,” by Elie Honig on CNN’s website, September 24, 2019.
Source 5: “Statement from National Security Professionals” at National Security Action, signed by nearly three hundred former U.S. foreign policy and national security officials, September 27, 2019.
Source 6: “Why the Trump Impeachment Inquiry Is the Only Option,” from the editorial board of The New York Times, September 27, 2019.
Source Set B: Anti-Impeachment Inquiry
Source 7: “Nancy Pelosi will regret rushing into impeachment push,” by Michael Goodwin, in the New York Post, September 25, 2019.
Source 8: Interview with Senator Lindsay Graham on CNN, September 25, 2019.
Source 9: Tweets from President Trump’s official Twitter account.
Source 10: “Remarks by President Trump Upon Air Force One Arrival,” Prince George’s County, Maryland, September 26, 2019, 1:00 p.m.
Source 11: “Trump Did It, but Should He Be Impeached?” by Jonah Goldberg, in the National Review September 27, 2019.
Source 12: “Pelosi’s impeach Trump push insults our Constitution. Why not let voters decide about Trump?” an article by Adam Goodman, on the Fox News website, September 29, 2019.
5. Discussion on Media Source Analysis
After they complete the handout, ask students if they had any trouble deciding whether certain phrases and sentences were opinions or facts. You may want to prompt them to discuss whether the quotation from Source 7, “This case doesn’t come close to meeting any rational standard” is an opinion or a fact. Invite students to share their views on the following questions:
- Which of their sources did students find most convincing? Why?
- What method(s) did they use to learn more about the author and publisher?
- Did students identify any claims that, based on their research, were false? Do students think that a source with a false claim or false information can be useful in any way? Explain.
- What makes a source reliable?
- Were students able to identify bias in their sources?
- What method(s) did students use to identify bias? If students identified bias, did that have an impact on the degree to which students trusted their source?
- Did the process of analyzing their sources affect whether they think that the impeachment inquiry is a good idea?
- Encourage students to consider previous impeachments of U.S. presidents. Can they identify similarities or differences with the current situation?
Contact Elected Officials: Invite students to write letters to elected officials expressing their own views on impeachment. They can find contact information about how to reach U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives at usa.gov/elected-officials.
Persuasive Writing: In 1788, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote eighty-five essays to convince the people of New York to support ratification of the new U.S. Constitution. These essays became known as the Federalist Papers. In the Federalist No. 65, Hamilton expressed his theory about the impeachment process.
“The prosecution of [politicians on trial for impeachment]…will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” —Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Papers, Number 65, March 7, 1788 (https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed65.asp)
Have students draft a short, evidence-based, persuasive essay that answers the question:
Does the political debate about impeaching President Trump support Hamilton’s theory of impeachment?
Students should write in the third person, cite evidence, and utilize what they have learned from the lesson and class discussions. You may also require students to find and cite additional sources.
Monitoring the Impeachment Inquiry: The impeachment inquiry is likely to continue for some time.
“Monitoring the Impeachment Process” will help students record information from media sources at weekly intervals. Encourage students to continue to apply their media source analysis skills and to seek out multiple media sources with diverse perspectives as they follow developments. Every week, students should write a short update about the impeachment process on Part I of the handout. At the end of the month, students should answer the questions listed in Part II.
After students have completed the activity, bring the class together to debrief. How has the situation evolved? Has the level of public support for impeachment changed? Have any politicians changed their views? In what way? What are the most significant new developments?
Thanks to Amy Sanders, Choices Teaching Fellow, and Talia Brenner for their important contributions to this lesson plan.