FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Politics of Trump’s Impeachment

Photograph Source: United States House of Representatives – Public Domain

Several features stand out in the impeachment quest against President Donald J. Trump. There is constitutional discourse as mythology and fetish. There is outrage that the executive office could have been used to actually investigate political opponents through foreign agents. There is cattiness over whether the conduct of the president veered into the territory of criminality, or fell somewhat short in his incessant obstruction.

One theme stands out: The sheer divisiveness of this effort, which tore at the Democratic camp even as it encouraged Trump. As Democrats reflected over the House vote (230 to 197) to give Trump the constitutional heave-ho to the Senate, no sores have been healed, or divisions patched across the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also careful not to give an explicit show of delight. Trump the symptom remains, his voting base not necessarily convinced or persuaded.

This is something Trump is reaping with manic persistence. In a letter to Pelosi, he blustered that, “More due process was afforded those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.” He had been “denied the most fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution, including the right to present evidence.” The Democrats had been, he charged, obsessed by a “partisan impeachment crusade”.

He also reiterated the basis of murky political strategy, something that resists the parameters of legal fettering. “You know full well that Vice President Biden used his office and $1 billion dollars of US aid money to coerce Ukraine into firing the prosecutor who was digging into the company paying his son millions of dollars.” This is a less than noble reminder that US politics remains, at its heart, darkened, a condition that refuses to heal.

The position taken by moderate Democrats is that voting for the measure might not have been a politically sound thing from a self-interested point of view, but was inevitable. “If I lose my seat, so be it,” reflected New York Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi. “At the end of the day, I had to do what I felt was right for our country and the rule of law.”

What the impeachment process cannot escape from is politics. As Gerald Ford stated while a House Rep., an impeachable offence might be best described as “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers to be at a given moment in history.” The very idea of what consists of “high crimes and misdemeanours” outlined in Article II, Section 4 encourages sufficient vagueness and manipulation. That particular edition was George Mason’s contribution nine days before the Framers signed the Constitution, one made out of concern that “treason” failed to appropriately net other attempts “to subvert the Constitution”. But in Law’s empire, there is no agreement as to whether such words suggest a criminal threshold.

Even then, terms such as “bribery” are up for debate. Philip Bobbitt of Columbia University suggests that President Trump did sail close to it in his dinner with then-FBI director James Comey. The occasion saw Trump inquiring of Comey as to whether he wanted to keep his job, suggesting that he terminate the Russia investigation. But even Comey was reluctant to suggest that there had been such an explicit point.

The relevant part of the Constitution highlighting the powers of the Senate vis-à-vis impeachment can be found in Article I, section 3, clause 6: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.” The requirement for the Chief Justice’s presence furnishes a legal gloss, but nothing more.

However framed, be it legal or judicial, the senators will not be required to have legal training or awareness of the finer points of law to deal with the matter. The Senate now assumes the position of judge and jury, a problematic state of affairs that involves, as Charles L. Black Jr. wrote in 1974, “the conscience of each senator, who ought to realize the danger and try as far as possible to divest himself of all prejudice. I see no reason why this cannot produce a satisfactory result.”

Black’s confidence in senatorial capacity is charming and misplaced. It challenges the senators to shed partiality and examine the evidence with sobriety and confidence. Perhaps it is for that reason that his words, as Akhil Amar suggests in a foreword to a second edition of Black’s Impeachment: A Handbook, “are cool, not hot.” Be mindful of haste and impulse; “shrink from this most drastic of measures”, he cautions. Only when “the rightness of diagnosis and treatment is sure” should such a process be deployed.

Already, we know what Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has promised. “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it.” For Senator McConnell, the entire episode regarding Trump has been a matter of highest and most venomous partisanship. “The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate.”

The Republicans have trained their weapons upon the Democrats, expecting a vengeful US electorate to be suitably punitive come 2020. They, like the Democrats, have also made a gamble on Trump, albeit from the opposite side of the chamber. “Today, December 18, 2019,” posed Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, “is another date that will live in infamy.” How that infamy translates in Trumpland promises to be decidedly toxic and volatile.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

July 09, 2020
Richard D. Wolff
COVID-19 Exposes the Weakness of a Major Theory Used to Justify Capitalism
Ahrar Ahmad
Racism in America: Police Choke-hold is Not the Issue
Timothy M. Gill
Electoral Interventions: a Suspiciously Naïve View of U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War World
Daniel Falcone
Cold War with China and the Thucydides Trap: a Conversation with Richard Falk
Daniel Beaumont
Shrink-Wrapped: Plastic Pollution and the Greatest Economic System Jesus Ever Devised
Prabir Purkayastha
The World Can Show How Pharma Monopolies Aren’t the Only Way to Fight COVID-19
Gary Leupp
“Pinning Down Putin” Biden, the Democrats and the Next War
Howard Lisnoff
The Long Goodbye to Organized Religion
Cesar Chelala
The Dangers of Persecuting Doctors
Mike Garrity – Erik Molvar
Back on the List: A Big Win for Yellowtone Grizzlies and the Endangered Species Act, a Big Loss for Trump and Its Enemies
Purusottam Thakur
With Rhyme and Reasons: Rap Songs for COVID Migrants
Binoy Kampmark
Spiked Concerns: The Melbourne Coronavirus Lockdown
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela is on a Path to Make Colonialism Obsolete
George Ochenski
Where are Our Political Leaders When We Really Need Them?
Dean Baker
Is it Impossible to Envision a World Without Patent Monopolies?
William A. Cohn
Lead the Way: a Call to Youth
July 08, 2020
Laura Carlsen
Lopez Obrador’s Visit to Trump is a Betrayal of the U.S. and Mexican People
Melvin Goodman
Afghanistan: What is to be Done?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
The End of the American Newspaper
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Merits of Medicare for All Have Been Proven by This Pandemic
David Rosen
It’s Now Ghislaine Maxwell’s Turn
Nicolas J S Davies
Key U.S. Ally Indicted for Organ Trade Murder Scheme
Bob Lord
Welcome to Hectobillionaire Land
Laura Flanders
The Great American Lie
John Kendall Hawkins
Van Gogh’s Literary Influences
Marc Norton
Reopening vs. Lockdown is a False Dichotomy
Joel Schlosberg
“All the Credit He Gave Us:” Time to Drop Hamilton’s Economics
CounterPunch News Service
Tribes Defeat Trump Administration and NRA in 9th Circuit on Sacred Grizzly Bear Appeal
John Feffer
The US is Now the Global Public Health Emergency
Nick Licata
Three Books on the 2020 Presidential Election and Their Relevance to the Black Live Matter Protests
Elliot Sperber
The Breonna Taylor Bridge
July 07, 2020
Richard Eskow
The War on Logic: Contradictions and Absurdities in the House’s Military Spending Bill
Daniel Beaumont
Gimme Shelter: the Brief And Strange History of CHOP (AKA CHAZ)
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s War
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Racism May be Blatant, But the Culture He Defends Comes Out of the Civil War and Goes Well Beyond Racial Division
Andrew Stewart
Can We Compare the George Floyd Protests to the Vietnam War Protests? Maybe, But the Analogy is Imperfect
Walden Bello
The Racist Underpinnings of the American Way of War
Nyla Ali Khan
Fallacious Arguments Employed to Justify the Revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Autonomy and Its Bifurcation
Don Fitz
A Statue of Hatuey
Dean Baker
Unemployment Benefits Should Depend on the Pandemic
Ramzy Baroud – Romana Rubeo
Will the ICC Investigation Bring Justice for Palestine?
Sam Pizzigati
Social Distancing for Mega-Million Fun and Profit
Dave Lindorff
Private: Why the High Dudgeon over Alleged Russian Bounties for Taliban Slaying of US Troops
George Wuerthner
Of Fire and Fish
Binoy Kampmark
Killing Koalas: the Promise of Extinction Down Under
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail