Déjà Vu All Over Again: Trump Impeachment and Swiss Burqa/Niqab Vote

Despite riveting and compelling presentations by the House of Representative Lead Managers in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, the Senate voted 57-43, not enough to find him guilty, just as they had voted not to find him guilty in the previous impeachment trial in 2020. Despite the fact that researchers say there are only between 20 to 30 women in Switzerland wearing a burqa or niqab, the Swiss People’s Party is poised to win a ban on facial coverings in a national vote on March 7, just as they won a 2009 referendum against building minarets although there are only four minarets in Switzerland.

In the famous quote attributed to the baseball star Yogi Berra known for his malapropos: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The United States House of Representatives has twice charged Donald Trump. The first time concerned his pressuring Ukraine officials to investigate a presidential opponent’s son’s activities in Ukraine. The Senate acquitted him with only one Republican voting guilty on one of the articles of impeachment.

This time, the House of Representatives voted impeachment because President Trump “threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government.” And, despite the fact that the consequences were witnessed by the senators and vividly shown on videos, only seven Republican senators out of 50 voted Trump “guilty.” This is the most number of votes by the opposition party in all four impeachment trials in U.S. history, but still far from the 17 that were needed for a guilty verdict and eventual disqualification to hold future office.

While the arguments in the first and second trials were significantly different, almost all Republican senators remained loyal to Trump. That they were threatened by the mob, that they witnessed the violence had no bearing on the final vote. Afterwards, the leader of the Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell, made an impassioned speech stating that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the riot. But he voted not guilty. The senators stood by their man.

In Switzerland, the Swiss People’s Party launched a referendum in 2009 to amend the constitution to ban the construction of minarets. The amendment, which needed a double majority of citizens and cantons, was approved surprisingly by 57.5% of citizens voting and 19 cantons out of 23. The vote was widely condemned internationally. It was seen as Islamophobic as well as not necessary, given the small number of Muslim worshippers in Switzerland.

This time, the ban on burqa or niqab appeals to the same who voted against the minarets, although they have been joined by some who consider the vote as limiting women’s freedom. According to recent polls, 63% of those questioned agreed to prohibit full facial coverings in public places, slightly more than the 2009 vote but similar in geographic regions and political party affiliations. Although there was an international outcry against the 2009 vote, many of those who opposed more minarets – remember there were just four – now oppose the wearing of burqas or niqabs – remember there are only between 20 to 30 women concerned out of a general population of eight million. The anti-minarets, anti-burqa/niqab Swiss have stood by their ideas.

In both the impeachment vote and the burqa/niqab referendum, there are striking similarities. In the impeachment case, Donald Trump’s actions before, during and after the riot have been recognized as playing to a potentially violent base. The fact that the Senate Republican leader agreed with the Democrats’ arguments did not affect the final result. There was no fundamental change; only seven out of 50 Republican senators voted guilty; only 10 out of 211 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to impeach. Not very high percentages.

In the burqa/niqab case, it is important to remember the 2009 victory against minaret construction was shocking. The argument for the ban was that constructing them in Switzerland “would prevent the further spread of Islam in the country.” It was recognized that limiting minarets would not prevent worshippers from practicing in mosques. Nevertheless, those who voted for the ban hoped that it would stop “creeping Islamisation.” Islam is the third religion in Switzerland with some 450,000 followers.

Switzerland’s self-image of tolerance and multiculturalism took a huge hit in 2009. According to NBC News, “The U.N.’s special investigator on religious freedom at the time, Asma Jahangir, said the ban on new minarets constitutes ‘a clear discrimination against members of the Muslim community in Switzerland.’” If only 20 to 30 women living in Switzerland wear the burqa or niqab, why is this ban necessary, especially after the international condemnation of its anti-Muslim prejudice in 2009?

So, besides the fact that there has been little change in the votes for impeachment and the bans, what is also impressive is the resolution behind the parties. Republican continue to stand behind Donald Trump despite his “reprehensible” actions. As Trump boasted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Now, apparently, he can incite a riot that threatens members of Congress and not lose votes among the very members of Congress.

As for the voters behind the minaret and now burqa/niqab ban, they continue to be against “creeping Islamisation” despite the fact that the facial ban would affect a very tiny percentage of the population. The fact that the minaret ban was widely condemned internationally and that the image of Switzerland as being anti-Muslim would result from the ban, its adherents persevere.

Loyalty is a most positive human quality except when people are loyal to the wrong person or ideas. The Republicans attitude toward Donald Trump continues to withstand damning evidence of his unconstitutional activities. Swiss Islamophobic votes continue to degrade a country’s reputation as a defender of human rights and personal freedom. Yogi Berra is no longer with us; enough of déjà vu all over again.

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.