A Tyrant for the Masses

Revelations of a whistleblower’s formal complaint over a secured phone call made between the US President and Ukrainian President Zelensky have triggered a new wave of Democratic efforts towards the impeachment of US President Donald Trump. 

Hearings in Congress have highlighted the fact that the call took place just days after Trump put £316m of military aid to the Ukraine on hold. Democrats argue that this was aimed to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating discredited corruption allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. With Biden being the top Democratic presidential candidate for the 2020 election and arguably Trump’s toughest opponent in the race, such allegations could have serious implications for the 2020 elections. 

To clarify, impeachment does not necessarily result in a sitting President’s removal from office. Impeachment is the adoption of charges by the House, leading to a trial in the Senate. Accordingly, even if the House were to find Trump guilty, the Senate would still require a two-thirds majority vote to remove him from office. According to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, grounds for impeachment are treason, bribery and “other high crimes and misdemeanors”, however, these terms lack an actual legal definition. Most common interpretations of this language agree that the impeachment process does not require a serious crime to be enacted, but merely evidence of a meaningful and severe pattern of misconduct deemed by Congress as necessitating an impeachment probe.

Such radical action has only been undertaken twice in US history; the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton (Richard Nixon avoided near-certain impeachment through resignation). Given impeachment’s rather exceptional history, how likely is Trump to be impeached?

Realistically, the odds are low. It would take just 34 Senate Republicans to avoid a two-thirds vote and acquit Trump of his crimes. In a Senate dominated by a 53-strong Republican majority, few expect a full 20 senators to defect and openly defenestrate him so close to the 2020 election. It speaks volumes to the state of American political polarisation that this fact will likely remain the case regardless of what the impeachment probe might reveal. 

The most significant outcome of Democrats pushing for impeachment on such slim charges could lie within the consequences for American politics itself. Democratic efforts are currently focused on publicizing a probably unsuccessful impeachment probe, paving the way for Trump to revel in his success. Democrats have built the groundwork for Trump to accuse them of wasting taxpayer money and served him the platform to popularize this opinion on a silver platter during elections.

James Bryce speculated in the 1880s: “A bold President who knew himself to be supported by a majority in the country, might be tempted to override the law. He might be a tyrant, not against the masses, but with the masses.” 

This certainly holds true for this Impeachment Inquiry, which may just create such a tyrant for the masses, made bold by success over his opponents.

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