Not unimpeachable: on Donald Trump's impeachment

Trump is unlikely to be removed as President, but the rebuke will hurt

December 19, 2019 10:47 pm | Updated November 28, 2021 10:52 am IST

United States President Donald Trump made history, albeit not in the way he would have dreamed, when he became only the third incumbent to get impeached by the House of Representatives . On Wednesday, the House impeached him on two articles, one each for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The first article relates to Mr. Trump withholding $391 million in military aid and a White House meeting unless Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to investigate the business dealings of the family of Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden — in other words, a bid to discredit domestic rivals through foreign influence. This article, which identifies a violation of the oath of office and a breach of national security, passed by 230 votes to 197, with the entire Republican membership opposing it. The second article relates to the charge that Mr. Trump obstructed the Congressional probe into abuse-of-power allegations by urging witnesses not to cooperate and asking federal government agencies to disregard subpoenas. This passed by 229 votes to 198. Now, the matter passes into the hands of the Senate . Given that a two-thirds majority, or 67 Senators, is required to convict and to remove Mr. Trump from office, and the chamber is split between 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, an acquittal is expected.

Yet, two things are certain: first, no matter Mr. Trump’s popularity with his constituents and the current global mood leaning towards nativist populism, the impeachment is a stain on his reputation and a historic rebuke that will never fade in the annals of infamy. Second, and more worrying for prospects of harmony within the American union, the impeachment will drive a deeper wedge between the two opposing political discourses of a polarised electorate. Already, the Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have indicated that they might withhold articles of impeachment from the Senate for some time, effectively delaying the trial in the Upper House until there is more clarity around the rules that the latter will set for the trial. If this becomes a protracted and hostile engagement across the two chambers, it could muddy the waters during the upcoming election year and make the campaign even more vicious than that of 2016. Going beyond the impeachment, however, it might be possible to bridge the chasm between Mr. Trump’s detractors and supporters only if a conversation is initiated to retrieve the spirit of bipartisanship on issues such as immigration, trade, climate change, gun control, racism and minority rights. The alternative route may well lead directly to a political purgatory for one of the world’s oldest democracies, and that is likely to hurt.

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