ON Nov 13, 2019, public hearings will begin in impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Trump, who is the 45th president of the United States, is only the third to be tried for the ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’ that make up the burden that the Democrats turning to articles of impeachment have to meet. From the looks of it, it seems that neither President Trump nor his supporters in the Republican Party are at all afraid of what is about to take place. Indeed, last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a stalwart supporter of the president, said that he would not even bother to read the testimony that has been already provided during closed-door hearings in the impeachment case.
Republican bravado being what it is, the case against impeachment is looking strong. Unlike the Mueller report, which gave a dreary, tedious and complicated account of the president’s dealings with Russia and refused to provide any definitive direction as to what should be done about them, this current case is different. The phone call with Ukraine, which took place in September — a summary stupidly provided by the smug (at the time) White House — clearly showed the president asking for a favour.
The closed-door hearings that Senator Graham and an assortment of other Republican operatives have publicly refused to read have shown that State Department officials were instructed to withhold billions of dollars of military aid until the president of Ukraine publicly announced an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.
Biden, of course, is Trump’s main rival in the upcoming 2020 elections. Last week, a long-time Trump funder and ambassador to the EU confirmed that not only were State Department officials told to withhold the aid but that Ukrainian officials were already told that the aid had been withheld owing to their inability to dance to Trump’s tune.
Republican bravado being what it is, the case against impeachment is looking strong.
It’s all a mess but one that should be roundly familiar to Pakistanis where the parade of the various children and family members of graft-addicted leaders is usually dragged through accountability proceedings of sorts after any transition in government.
Familiar too should be the fact that like Pakistan, the United States has capitulated to nepotism in a grand way: Chelsea Clinton is supposedly considering a Congressional run, the Trump children and their spouses are doing everything from negotiating Middle East peace, to getting fat hotel deals all around the world, to filing patents in China, while Biden’s son had been committing the relatively slight sin of serving on the board of an energy company at the time his father was serving as the vice president. Conflicts of interest and fat favours from mother and father, the inheritance of each and every one — a matter so maddening to Americans that Joe Biden has made the elimination of any such impropriety central to his campaign promises.
That, however, is the matter of elections, and currently the United States is confronted with impeachment. The process is as muddled as the Electoral College morass that determines the victor in American elections. A vote to impeach has to be brought in the House of Representatives. The house can conduct the public hearings that will begin this week as part of its effort to inform the public and its members as to why the articles of impeachment are being brought in Congress. The matter of conviction depends not simply on whether the president committed a crime but is a political decision based on whether the president ‘abused his power’. As in the case of former president Bill Clinton, it is likely that the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democratic Party, will convict Donald Trump.
If so, the matter then proceeds to the Senate which is controlled by the Republicans. Despite the fact that the party of the president does not really want the proceedings to happen in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely have to bear with them anyway. The chief justice of the Supreme Court will be presiding over impeachment proceedings. Based on Senator Lindsey Graham’s diffident statement, it is almost for sure that the Senate will not convict President Donald Trump.
At the point, one can scratch one’s head (as one does at the shenanigans of the National Accountability Bureau): why the whole circus of pointing and convicting anyway?
The answer has to do with the fact that the American electoral public, solidly fed up with sitting through trials of the president, will be less likely to elect him, be more willing to believe that he is, in fact, corrupt. Whether this is true is unknown. Despite all the Ukraine news, Trump has maintained his 40 per cent support in his party, even though he is trailing behind nearly all the Democratic nominees in a head-to-head contest.
Other polls also suggest that Americans who are not particular aficionados of Trump’s race-baiting white nationalist agenda are less than enthused at the prospect of a second term of hopping from one political crisis to another. Elections in 2018 and last week in 2019 have all shown an advantage for the Democrats.
At the same time, the Democratic field does not look strong in the race for president in 2020. The top contenders, including Biden, all seem to have major flaws — either erring sons as in the case of Biden, or very tall and expensive promises as in the case of others.
Thus the race is clearly completely open, which makes the impeachment hearings — set to be telecast on all the high velocity American cable news channels — great television.
Depending on the performance of one and another side, and the extent of damage the witnesses can deal out, we may or may not be watching the end of the turbulent and tacky Trump presidency. Like the reality television show which brought him in power, the loss of Trump’s power may fittingly come via the content of another kind of reality show.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019