On September 24th 2019, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, announced the beginning of a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump on two charges. The first article accuses Trump of an abuse of power and the second, an obstruction of Congress, both regarding his conduct in relation to communications with Ukraine. Many have been quick to criticise members of the Democratic Party for pursuing the impeachment of the President on the grounds that they are wasting precious, decision-making time on an impeachment trial which is destined to be defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate. Yet these critics are too quick to judge, for the impeachment of Trump is fundamental to restoring the political legitimacy enjoyed by the President, which has since come under attack (although it is admittedly already slight). This is central to maintaining some level of faith in Washington through avoiding the alienation of alarmed members of Congress and the electorate alike. What is more, for these reasons it is only right for the impeachment process to play out, regardless of the common assertion that the Democrats are using the trial as a tool to solely damage the electoral prospects of the Republican incumbent prior to this year’s presidential election.
It is true that the impeachment trial will be costly, both in terms of valuable time and actual finance. The inquiry itself has cost more than $3 million, with the trial expected to cost significantly more. The debate merely regarding the rules for the impeachment trial spanned over 13 hours, following a long week of the Senate discussing how to proceed. All in all, the process has already taken away from the Senate’s capacity to discuss and make decisions about key areas of public policy, exacerbated by the Trump administration’s refusal to provide documents and testimonies. The Senate even had the opportunity to vote to dismiss the charges against Trump without even considering evidence (although such a dismissal vote likely would have divided Republicans and acted as a symbolic defeat for the President). Perhaps the futility of impeachment can be epitomised with the use of fidget spinners by Republican Senators whilst listening to the case put forward by the Democrats on Thursday.
It seems that such an inquiry and trial (one which will almost definitely be thrown straight out of the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove Trump from office) is a waste of Senators’ time and tax-payers’ money. However, the right to impeach is absolutely fundamental to political legitimacy in the United States. Enshrined in the revered Constitution, it is essential that elected politicians are able to be investigated and trialled, in order to acknowledge and respect the competency of the electorate to understand the allegations against an official. As of January 22nd, polls demonstrate that just over half of the American electorate actively support the impeachment of the President, 50.5%, with 45.6% not supporting the impeachment and the remainder apathetic or uninformed (FiveThirtyEight Polls). What is critical to note here is that the electorate in the United States not only are more informed than they are often given credit, but they are interested and, on the whole, feel decisively about the process. As a result, surely it is a failure of American democracy to trivialise an impeachment trial which already has the support of the elected members of the House of Representatives (with 230 votes for impeachment to 197 and 229 votes for impeachment to 198, for each article respectively), in addition to the support of the general public? The case put forward by those defending the conduct of the incumbent, that an impeachment is simply too costly given that it is doomed to failure, seems ineffectual when compared to upholding the legitimacy of the President through respecting the votes of Congressmen with the support of the electorate.
Regardless of how the trial plays out, and although it will be no shock to anyone when Trump is found not guilty on both charges, the impeachment process is absolutely fundamental to maintaining grounds for the rhetoric that the United States is anywhere near ‘the best democracy in the world’. The fact that only two other presidents in history have been impeached alone demonstrates the severity of the charges against Trump, hence it seems only right and respectable to have held the inquiry and, following the success of the votes in the House, hold a trial which is able to rebuild (albeit only a little) faith in the President and the political system.
Image - Flickr (Master Steve Rapport)