Musings from afar

Donald Trump’s impeachment polarises USA further

American society is more polarised now than when Trump became the President. He has no incentive to ameliorate this situation now.

 |  Musings from afar  |  5-minute read |   23-12-2019
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With the formal impeachment of US President Donald Trump by the US House of Representatives, another saga in the US political landscape has begun. Trump became the third US President to be impeached by the House and now all eyes are on Senate where his trial will take place.

Trump impeached

Trump is asking for an immediate impeachment trial in the Senate even as the Democrats and Republicans continue to spar over when it may start. The Democrats are not willing to commence the Senate proceedings amid suggestions that the Republican-controlled Senate is refusing witnesses and will not hold a fair trial.

In the Senate, the party arithmetic is such that the trial will lead to a sure shot acquittal of Trump. No wonder Trump is using it to force the hands of the Democrats. He has accused the Democrats of not wanting to go to trial because their “case is so bad.” In a tweet, he said “So, after the Democrats gave me no Due Process in the House, no lawyers, no witnesses, no nothing, they now want to tell the Senate how to run their trial. Actually, they have zero proof of anything, they will never even show up. They want out. I want an immediate trial!”

The House of Representatives charged Trump of abusing the power of his office for domestic political advantage and, subsequently, obstructing Congress’ abilities to hold him accountable. The abuse of power charge was rooted in Trump's alleged attempt to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his Democratic political rival, Joe Biden while the second charge pertained to the US President allegedly refusing to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry, withholding documentary evidence and barring his key aides from giving evidence.

The voting was along predictable party lines in the House and the debate was charged as the two sides tried to set the terms of political engagement for after the wrangling in the US Congress is over. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that Republican senators would act in “total co-ordination” with the President's team during the trial, overturning the very logic of Senate being an impartial trial chamber.

main_america-trump-d_122319111314.jpgTrump’s impeachment has not impacted the opinion of the American public about the President. It remains as divided as ever. (Photo: Reuters)

After the proceedings in the House, McConnell further commented that Trump's impeachment is the “most rushed, least thorough and most unfair” in history, warning that the Democrat-led House of Representatives had let its “partisan rage” create a “toxic precedent that will echo into the future.” The Senate Democrats responded by suggesting that McConnell “could not rebut the accusations against the President.”

Senate beckons

So, even as Trump and Senate Republicans are seeking an early trial, there are indications from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about a possible delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate so that the two sides can bargain about the conduct of senatorial proceedings. The Democrats want several White House aides to testify on the Ukraine question and the Republicans are unwilling to play ball. They have the numbers so a longstanding impasse might be likely. Both sides are hoping that this would derail the agenda of the other side. That has been the story of this trial from the very beginning.

American society and polity remain as polarised as three years back when Trump was elected. If anything, the polarisation seems to have only increased. It was this polarisation that made Trump’s Presidency possible, so he has no incentive to ameliorate this situation. The entire impeachment drama has hardly made a dent in the opinion of Americans about the President which remains as divided as ever. Since there is no middle ground left in the American polity, both sides have been catering to their base.

Ripple effects

This partisanship has been on display throughout the impeachment process and is likely to be exacerbated as this process intersects with the US Presidential election calendar ever more closely. Both sides are hoping that they would gain from this polarisation. Trump, of course, hopes to mobilise his base with an argument that since the Democrats cannot take him on politically, they are targeting him through the backdoor.

For the Democrats too, this will become a rallying cry. But the real issue will be what happens in the battleground states where the electoral battle has to be fought from the Centre. The Democratic primaries show that this one of the most Left-leaning group of political leaders vying for Democratic nomination this year. And Trump has succeeded in taking the Republicans from Centre-Right to almost extreme Right.

This polarisation in American domestic polity is significant in the realm of foreign policy as well. The most important result of this will be a country which is ever more inward-looking with little incentive to engage with the wider world. From trade to security to the global multilateral order, the reverberations would be widely felt. Trump has already upended a lot of assumptions about American foreign policy.

If the present trends in the American domestic policy are anything to go by, a lot more turbulence is in the offing.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Why Donald Trump needs anger management more than Greta Thunberg

Writer

Harsh V Pant Harsh V Pant

The writer is Professor of International Relations at King's College London. His most recent book is India's Afghan Muddle (HarperCollins).

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