- What is happening in the USA?
People in Pakistan do not see President Donald J, Trump as having done anything wrong, even if he did what he is supposed to have done. Isn’t that what politicians do, after all? Isn’t that what Prime Minister Imran Khan is doing, using state machinery to do down political opponents in the time-honoured fashion of his predecessors? However, whatever he has done, Trump is headed towards becoming only the fourth US President to have articles of impeachment approved against him, and will probably be the third to undergo the next step in the sequence, trial by the Senate. He is unlikely to use the expedient of resignation, which got off the only President to avoid the trial.
It is perhaps the vagary of the system that though there will be a trial, at which evidence will be presented and witnesses appear, at which the Chief Justice of the USA, presently Mr Justice John Roberts, will preside, the result is already known. The result of some trials is known, but that is so because the case is either so strong or so weak against the defendant, so as to make an open-and-shut case. However, the result of an impeachment is known because of the political affiliation of the jurors, because that is the role that Senators will play, that of jurors. However, these 100 ‘men (and women) good and true’ will not decide according to the evidence, but according to their political interests.
This whole affair is directed at the election cycle. If Trump was removed from office, the Republican party would be faced with a late nomination race in 2020, another incentive to Republican Senators not break ranks. However, the Senate will have to face the prospect of condoning the kind of behaviour that constitutes misuse of office
From the point of view of the President, it is important that they follow party lines. At present, the Republicans hold 51 seats. The Democrats hold 49, but need 67 to achieve the two-thirds majority. That means 18 Republicans have got to vote for impeachment. In 1974, when the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Nixon, the Democrats held 56 seats, and needed only 11 more to reach the magic number. Nixon resigned when it became clear that he would be impeached, because enough Republican Senators would vote against him. By resigning, Nixon not only became the first President to do so in history, he also protected his generous pension and post-retirement perks.
While Nixon faced Democrat majorities in both Houses, Bill Clinton faced Republican majorities. The one in the House impeached him over the Lewinsky affair, in which he attempted to find a job for Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern with whom he had had an affair, so as to keep her quiet. He was acquitted, and one result seems to be that it is now OK to misbehave with women and be President. At least that is how Trump seems to be positioned, as someone who was exposed a habitual groper, and someone who engaged in brief flings while his wife was expecting.
However, he also seems to have learnt that it was also OK to misuse his office. Trump is supposed to have asked Volodymyr Zelensky, during a call on July 25 to congratulate him on his election as President of Ukraine, to do two things in exchange for two things. He was to announce an investigation (not necessarily carry it out) into Hunter Biden and Burisma, the Ukrainian gas conglomerate on whose board he was, and into the allegations that it was Ukraine that had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election, not Russia.
In return, Zelensky would have a military aid package, already approved but held up, of $400 million, released. Trump would also grant Zelensky a meeting at the White House. The Trump Administration claimed that the money had been held up because of its concern about corruption in Ukraine. Corruption there is an important issue for the Trump Administration because it meant that first Joe Biden, while Vie-President, had played a role in the sacking of Vikto Shokin as Prosecutor General.
When Trump’s personal lawyer and former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, was in Ukraine, Shokin convinced him that he had been sacked to stop him investigating Hunter Biden, Joe’s son. Joe at that time was (and still is) the frontrunner in the race to become the 2020 Democratic nominee for President. Trump is thus accused of using his office to do down a political rival.
The story does not end there. Giuliani was back in Ukraine in the first week of December, apparently to dig up more dirt on the Bidens. Trump would like to claim Biden’s corruption as a defence before the Senate. However, what he is accused of doing does not seem unfamiliar to Pakistani ears, though even to them, it does seem strange for a US President to be using such tactics. Of course, in Pakistan, hounding politicians is not simply a matter of digging dirt on them, but of sending them to jail. No need to go to Ukraine: NAB forever!
Another factor that Trump will have to deal with is the findings of the Muller Report on the charges that Russia had interfered on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 election. One of the issues that it raised was Trump’s refusal to cooperate with it. Did that slide into obstruction of justice? That is an issue that will be raised in the Ukraine investigation. That is also one of the grounds of impeachment.
A problem with acquitting Trump will be the implicit permission that will be extended to future US Presidents to use the leverage their office commands to ensure their re-election somehow. Trump does face an election, but it is now impossible that Biden will be unaffected by the whole affair in his seeking the Democratic nomination. If he fails to secure it, it will be Trump’s fault. If he wins it, but proceeds to lose the election itself, it will be because of Trump. The only satisfactory outcome for Biden supporters would be his winning the nomination, and the beating Trump.
This whole affair is directed at the election cycle. If Trump was removed from office, the Republican party would be faced with a late nomination race in 2020, another incentive to Republican Senators not to break ranks. However, the Senate will have to face the prospect of condoning the kind of behaviour that constitutes misuse of office.
That means that the breakdown of the USA would have begun. What target more natural than a potential future opponent? And what more pressing item for a first-term President than re-election? The only thing stopping that was the President’s fear of impeachment, and belief that the law is supreme, not him. When Trump became President, he seemed to have the potential to begin the sort of breakdown that had led to the Roman Republic becoming the Roman Empire. He is fulfilling that potential. It remains to be seen what he might do in a second term if he is elected to it.