IN a dramatic development, the United States House of Representatives has impeached outgoing President Donald Trump and sent the impeachment resolution to the Senate to convict him. Given the numbers in the Senate and the little time left before Mr Trump bows out of the White House, the impeachment move may well remain symbolic in nature. Even then, the symbolism itself is a potent one. As are the words.

The impeachment resolution says: “President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperilled a coequal branch of government. He thereby betrayed his trust as president, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi too did not hold back as she opened the debate: “We know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation.”

It is clear that President Trump’s actions have elicited alarm and criticism within Republican ranks too. This may lead some Republicans to vote against him in the Senate. While Mr Trump retains a large and committed base of supporters, many among the Republican party rank and file may have realised, perhaps too late, that their blind support may have contributed to his reckless actions. Few could have imagined that one day the president of the US would be responsible for an insurrection at the Capitol — the temple of American democracy — and five people would lose their lives. Yet this is what the outgoing president has reduced America to — a democracy threatened from within and ridiculed from abroad.

There is a lesson for the American voter — in fact, for voters everywhere — about the repercussions of electing a person without considering the consequences of their choice. The US boasts a democratic system built on the concept of checks and balances where power is shared among institutions as well as between Washington and the states. If in such a structured system one person can use the powers bestowed upon him through his office to run amok, weaker democracies are much more susceptible to manipulation and abuse of power.

Voters may also need to keep in mind that a democratic mandate is not always a free pass. Leaders elected to office must always be kept under constitutional check otherwise they can use the weight of their office — and of their mandate — to force through policies that may be detrimental to a society’s health. The US media has played a critical role these last four years to keep Mr Trump under pressure by speaking truth to power. It has called out the president for his excesses despite pressures. Therein lies another lesson for us all.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2021

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