Ominous precedent: On Donald Trump impeachment

With Trump surviving the Senate trial, his politics will remain relevant till 2024

Published - February 17, 2021 12:02 am IST

Donald Trump has survived, by a mere 10 votes, the Senate trial that might have convicted him for inciting insurrection . All 50 Democrats of the Upper Chamber voted ‘guilty,’ and seven Republicans joined them, yet the tally fell short of the two-thirds necessary for conviction. The charges framed against the former U.S. President came from the House of Representatives, which impeached him — for the second time — last month, this time for goading on a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. The attack came after months of sloganeering by Mr. Trump on Twitter to the effect that the mail-in voting, a necessary feature of the pandemic-era election, was fraudulent and that his supporters ought to #StopTheSteal. Statistics from every previous presidential election suggest that this claim is entirely unfounded. The result was that a woman was killed at the site of the siege, and four others died during the course of the attack and its aftermath, including a police officer. Beyond the loss of life, the attack was recognised by President Joe Biden as an “unprecedented assault” on the soul of American democracy. In a sense, it marked the culmination of Mr. Trump’s relentless disregard of the traditions and norms of governance whether in terms of harsh immigration policies, the rejection of major global alliances and multilateral forums, a willingness to spark off trade wars and exacerbate tensions over tariffs, or to brazenly use his public position for personal gain.

The fact that Mr. Trump survived the vote to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanours and potentially bar him from running again, leaves ominous questions regarding the future of the Republican Party. Its leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, waxed eloquent about Mr. Trump’s culpability for incitement yet failed to grasp the irony that he had led the majority of his party to acquit the very man he claimed to denounce. This potentially raises at least two scenarios. The first is that Congressional Republicans are not, as a group, convinced that the harm that Mr. Trump did to the presidency and the fabric of American society warrants banning him from the highest office in the land. Second, even though they might secretly believe that Mr. Trump’s views were not in line with mainstream conservative values, they fear that convicting him and banning him from a second run for the White House might have the reverse effect on his supporter base — strengthening the Make America Great Again “movement”. After all, Mr. Trump did end up garnering over 74 million votes in last year’s election, and he mobilised these numbers through a relentless barrage of rhetoric fuelling nativist populism and a sense of disenfranchised white privilege, a political phenomenon not seen in recent decades. Unless the Grand Old Party pivots away from this Trump-centric view of its political fortunes, the bitter polarisation of the past few years will almost certainly make an ugly revival by 2024.

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