Impeachment: The last Refuge of Scoundrels and the Spark for Civil War

Alessandro Bruno

Leaving little to surprise the Democratic Party led House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump after a an eight-hour long debate. And the process was led and concluded entirely along party lines. The Representatives motivated the impeachment on the basis of two charges: abuse of power and obstruction of the Congress. Both charges stemmed from the wider accusations alleging that President Trump – according to the Democrats anyway – pressured his newly elected Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate the potentially illicit business interests that former vice president (and Democratic party Presidential candidate) Joe Biden and his son Hunter have pursued in Ukraine in exchange for military aid. Trump is the third US President to achieve the dubious honor: Andrew Johnson faced eleven articles of impeachment in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.

Trump described his impeachment, accusing House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi and her party of attempting a ‘coup d’état’. The Republican Party has rallied around the President on these terms; and so, will voters in the next election. The divisions in American society are palpable and almost material: two solid and opposing blocks. This is the reflection of a United States sinking in an institutional quicksand. The impeachment is but a symptom of the crisis. Almost 230 years after the drafting of the American Constitution, America’s two historical parties are reading that document through different lenses. They have lost a sense of shared values and, most importantly, the ability to renounce division and seek agreement in order to achieve goals that promote the national interest. The impeachment both reflects, and heightens, the image of an America split in two by a crisis that has drifted from the purely political to the Constitutional and social. It has altered and acidified public discourse to the point where there’s no discourse left. Civil dialogue has become impossible. And that is nothing less than the start of a civil war. It may be low intensity for the time being, but little is occurring to prevent it from further and grimmer transformation.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon avoided the embarrassment and resigned before Congress had a chance to impeach. Ironically, Nixon was the only one whose impeachment would have resulted in the intended effect of removing a sitting president from Office. As for Trump, the final phase of the impeachment procedure has started. The motion moves to the Senate, which shall deliberate and potentially involve the calling of witnesses. Yet, the Congressional Democrats could stall the transfer of the Impeachment ‘articles’ to the Senate, given that these would not be able to gather the necessary  two-thirds majority vote to terminate Trump’s presidency early. After all the Republicans hold a 53 to 47 majority and three Democrats have crossed Party lines over the affair. Therefore, expect the Democrats to attempt delaying and complicating the trial while the Republicans will go for speed in order to remove impeachment from the table and lave the Democrats exposed to the public for their utter lack of policy ideas.

The impeachment has not succeeded in achieving the division among Republicans they had hoped would happen. Rather, they’ve only managed to rally them around the President. In other words, the Democrats, by pushing the impeachment narrative, have done nothing more than to further reduce their chances of victory in 2020. They have been lazy. Instead of pursuing an opposition based on ideas and policies, the Democrats have merely tried to remove a sitting president from office since January 20, 2017 – especially considering that voters seem to like Trump better now. His approval among voters has increased, given the results of a recent pollshowing support has gone from 39% in October to 45% now. Still, while poll numbers are unreliable, Trump’s confidence speaks volumes about the Democrats’ impeachment debacle. Speaking from Michigan (one of the key swing States, which helped secure Trump’s win in 2016), the President, as if to highlight the futility of the Democrats’ efforts, boasted about the low unemployment numbers and return of (in theory at least) better paying manufacturing jobs. Trump’s triumphal tones are justified. By focusing on impeachment, the Democrats have learned nothing from 2016; and they’re doubling down on their failure. It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to defeat Trump in 2020.

The best that might be said about the entire impeachment process is that it serves as redemption for all the nasty things that the U.S. Government, on the whole, has inflicted on Americans and people around the world alike over the past few decades. It’s Christmas time. Those, who still remember its religious roots (whether you believe or not) are feeling anxious about performing good deeds. Sacrificing Trump, even if nominally so, seems like a convenient solution. It’s a good thing it’s not Easter, as that would have demanded a greater sacrificial gesture. After all, America is experiencing a period of socio-economic inequality not seen since the Great Depression. In such periods of difficulty, from both a sociological and anthropological perspective, people’s anger begs for sacrificial lambs to deflect attention from problems and their real causes. The Romans advised ‘panem et circenses’, bread and circuses, hence the popularity of gladiatorial fights-especially in periods of decline. Trump has played the role of lighting rod with aplomb. Benjamin Franklin could not have been prouder as the Democrats adapted his invention to create the illusion of opposition and relevance.

Will the impeachment lead to the more practical goal of moving a Democrat into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2021?

Not really. If anything, the impeachment has thwarted what little was available in the Democrats’ bag of tricks. To be clear, the telephone conversation that Trump had with President Zelensky of Ukraine was not the most diplomatic in the strict sense of the term…It was open to a number of interpretations. There’s little to compare Trump’s telephone conversations to those of his predecessors. Neither Barack Obama or George W. Bush had their phone calls scrutinized as closely as Trump’s. And it’s easy to pursue and criticize Trump for his behavior on Twitter and brash language. But, neither one of those are impeachable offenses. But was it a crime, much less one worthy of generating a casus inpedicandi? The confusion over the charges motivating the impeachment starting from the ‘quid pro quo’ to the oddest one: obstruction of Congress (after all there is an independent Judiciary branch to offset any such attempt). Rather, from Russiagate to Ukrainegate, the whole process was a distraction designed to humiliate Trump; and even more so, to humiliate his voters. It was an entirely partisan process, which the Democratic Party is using as a weapon in the grudge match that started in 2016.

The implications for the future are dire.

The one hope is that either most Americans decide to trust the current Democratic Party leadership in their hysteria against Trump. Or, as appears to be happening already, they start realizing that the frenzy and propagandistic methods that Democrats have used to demonize Trump through mainstream media such as CNN, and the New York Times represents little more than political theater. The latter seems more likely and President Trump will emerge a stronger candidate in 2020. The Democrats have virtually assured he will win in 2020 thanks to the votes of more entrenched Republican voters and a large number of independent voters, and maybe a few old-style Democrats, appalled by the partisanship and fearful of the deeper consequences of division. A Democratic win, should it happen, could enhance the partisan lines, shifting the current ‘civil war’ from harsh words to violence. Meanwhile, the impeachment itself, while potentially serving as the spark for another American civil war, may help divert attention from the more important issues emanating from the ‘Afghanistan Papers’, which more than any other document, illustrate the folly of the war against the Taliban. And then there are the more day to day and practical problems most Americans face every day from clean water to healthcare and education. The Democrats allegedly pursuing Trump in the name of the ‘Republic’ and ‘freedom’.

Those same Democrats, who are more than happy to sell pieces of American industry and policy to foreign interests are always willing to deliver such messages when it suits them. And they will regularly fail to deliver the real solutions Americans demand and deserve. That’s why the likely scenario for 2020 is that Trump will gain from impeachment, while the Democrats have already embarked on the self-destruction ship. In his more probable than possible second term, Trump will hold far greater power, bordering on that of an authoritarian ruler, tarnishing American democracy. The Democrats could have chosen to fight Trump on policy instead of chasing ghosts allegedly guilty of affecting electoral results (the electoral college notwithstanding). And they would have accumulated political capital. Instead, they’ve squandered everything. And Trump will do whatever he wants.

Alessandro Bruno

Alessandro Bruno

Alessandro Bruno, born in Naples, (BA and MA in International Relations, University of Toronto). Alessandro is a research analyst and writer in various business sectors and international politics. He was a Programme Officer for the UN in North Africa and a senior for one of the first international sustainable investment...
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