Well done, Democrats

The impeachment farce has only boosted Trump’s electoral prospects.

Tim Black

Tim Black

Topics Politics USA

On Wednesday afternoon, the US Senate acquitted President Donald Trump of all charges. And with that, the impeachment of the 45th president of the United States ended exactly as everyone knew it would: with Trump’s name still on the door of the White House.

He was facing serious charges. Trump was accused of an abuse of power and of obstructing Congress, following allegations that he had asked the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to ‘do us a favour’ and open up a corruption investigation into his potential presidential rival, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son, Hunter. In return, Trump would release the US’s annual, pre-agreed, near-$400million security-aid package to Ukraine.

But this was not a serious impeachment. The Democrats needed to forge a bipartisan alliance with Republicans, especially in the Republican-led Senate, if they were to win enough Congressional support to remove Trump. But they didn’t even try. As one report explains, Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, assigned pre-impeachment preparations to the House Intelligence Committee, rather than the House Judiciary Committee, so depositions could be held behind closed doors. The White House counsel was excluded from these initial proceedings, and prevented from inviting witnesses or compelling testimony, which protected Biden himself from being asked any embarrassing questions.

The result was not a trial, but a hyper-partisan farce. Republicans duly responded by preventing witnesses from being called. And the vast majority of senators-cum-jurors already knew their verdicts in advance. Republican senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict Trump was just about the only vague surprise during an otherwise tedious spectacle.

Yet as absurd as the impeachment of Trump has been, its consequences are serious.

For a start, it has devalued the idea of impeachment itself, potentially turning it into little more than a partisan means to undermine a president. It certainly was never intended to serve such a function. The Founding Fathers inserted it as a clause into the US Constitution (Article II, Section 4) to check the power of the executive. It was there to allow Congress to remove a president in cases where he was clearly abusing his office, and endangering the republic – in cases, that is, of ‘treason or bribery’, or other ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’. Such is the high bar, only two other presidents – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – have ever been impeached (neither were convicted).

It is simply not clear that Trump’s wrongdoing, such as it is, was ever of sufficient gravity to have demanded his impeachment. Romney can assert that it is, claiming it was ‘so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanour’. But others have asserted otherwise, with equal conviction. This has left impeachment looking less like a vital check on executive power run amok and more like an instrument of partisan power, to be exploited for nakedly political gain.

The bigger problem, however, is not whether senators were right or wrong to judge Trump’s behaviour as they did. It’s that their being empowered to do so disempowered the American people. It suggested that judgement of a president’s conduct is not the electorate’s to make.

This is precisely the sort of anti-democratic exploitation of impeachment that the Founding Fathers feared. This is why, when George Mason wanted ‘maladministration’ to also be grounds for impeachment, his fellow Founding Father James Madison demurred: ‘So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.’ While Madison was no democratic purist, he recognised that the capacity to judge merely bad presidents ought to belong to voters, not senators.

And this is precisely what the hardcore of anti-Trumpers and their Democratic champions have wilfully ignored – that, in their rush to impeach and convict Trump, they have attempted to usurp the power of the ballot box.

Voters know this, though. They know that Congress has overstepped the mark. Because they know that presidents have been involved in far worse, and not been subject to impeachment. They remember that Ronald Reagan was complicit in the Iran-Contra weapons-selling scandal, and that George W Bush waged a war in Iraq without good cause. This is why it is increasingly clear to them that the impeachment of Trump is motivated by far more than the rights and wrongs of his dealings with the Ukrainian president. It is, rather, a politically motivated attempt to depose Trump.

This cack-handed impeachment may well backfire for Democrats and their Trump-loathing fellow travellers. Many voters will interpret it as the political elite’s attempt to rid itself of The Donald. And, in turn, they will see it as an attempt to override that which catapulted him into power in the first place – namely, democracy.

You can see it happening already. More and more voters are now rallying behind Trump, just as they rallied behind Bill Clinton after he was impeached on equally dubious grounds by a Republican-led Congress. Polling already indicates an uptick in support for Trump. The latest Gallup poll, for instance, shows his approval rating has risen to 49 per cent, the highest of his presidency. It is nowhere near the post-impeachment approval rating for Clinton, which reached over 70 per cent – Trump’s appeal has never been that broad. But it does show that, in light of the impeachment, potential Trump voters, far from deserting him, have been galvanised.

This is not because they think Trump is a saint. Or even that he was right to pressure the Ukrainian president to dig for dirt on the Bidens’ business dealings in Ukraine. It’s because they recognise that two related things were implicitly under assault during the impeachment: their particular vote to elect Trump president in 2016 and their general democratic rights.

And it has been a sustained assault, too. Indeed Trump has been threatened with impeachment almost from the moment he assumed office at the begining of 2017, when the anti-Trumpers claimed his continued ownership of a hotel and golf-course business amounted to a violation of the constitution. There has also been the Stormy Daniels affair, Russiagate, and, of course, the subsequent Mueller inquiry. The impeachment is merely the latest expression of this determination to undo the perceived democratic error of 2016, using extra-democratic means.

No doubt Democrats believe that the muck stirred up by this circus will somehow stick to Trump, the first impeached president to stand for re-election. As Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer put it after Trump’s acquittal, there will always be ‘a giant asterisk’ next to the president’s name.

But that seems like wishful thinking on their part. If anything, this attempt to decide the president’s future in the Senate, rather than at the ballot box, is likely to have pushed Trump even closer to winning a second term.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


mister wallace

7th February 2020 at 11:29 pm

The point many of the chattering class seems to miss is that unlike the Westminster system whereby a government can fall on a simple majority vote on a no confidence motion, it takes two-thirds of the US Senate to convict, ie 67% which in this case is 67 votes. Was never going to happen.

Helen Back

7th February 2020 at 6:16 pm

Great article, I enjoyed reading. And whilst doing so was strangely reminded of that scene at the end of tora tora tora. Yamamato’s “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”..

Arby Schweizer

7th February 2020 at 5:50 pm

A perfectly-judged appraisal of the mess that the Democrats have created for themselves and the country they are meant to represent. They are blind to their complicity in creating the thing they hate,
and have still not figured out their way forward, re. potential nominee. Sad.

Michael Lynch

7th February 2020 at 12:39 am

I’m absolutely furious after just watching QT. We had Ed Davey on pontificating about Trump along with Labour’s Stella Creasy. A despot, who tried to pervert British democracy for his own ends, telling us that the American system is non democratic! Creasy went as far as to accuse Trump of destabilizing North Korea and nearly causing World War Three! That’s not how I remember it; was it not the North Koreans firing Nuclear missiles over the Pacific which the POTUS put a stop to? Not a word, of course, regarding the Democrats use of impeachment in order to better their chances in the forthcoming elections. Just that it was a sham trial entirely rigged by the Republican Party! We also had endure a Guardian journalist telling us that Black women somehow suffer the most sexual abuse; conveniently forgetting the thousands of underage white girls who were raped by Pakistani perverts. She probably doesn’t consider them worthy because they are mainly working class girls whose parents voted for Brexit. These idiots, including the BBC programmers, must not have received the clear memo sent to them after the GE; the Brexit debate is over, your ideology is redundant and we no longer require moral lectures from hypocrites. QT is a farcical charade and clearly demonstrates why the license fee should now be abolished.


7th February 2020 at 1:32 am

The authorities’ refusal to stop the Pakistan i ra pe gangs is a stain on this country. Muslims who refuse to abjure their faith should be expelled from this country, indeed from Europe.

Ed Turnbull

7th February 2020 at 9:41 am

Well ZP, I find myself in partial agreement with you (isn’t such a thing supposed to be one of the portents of the Apocalypse…?). Yes, it’s utterly scandalous that the authorities tacitly enabled the industrial scale abuse of countless young girls. And those responsible *must* be held to account if there’s to be any hope of restoring public trust in the police, judiciary and the body politic.

However, I’m not sure that I can go as far as calling for the expulsion of muslims simply for believing the horse manure written in the Islamic scriptures. (Have I just ‘insulted’ islam there? Can I expect a visit from the rozzers to ‘check my thinking’?) The classical liberal in me says that people must be free to believe in all kinds of nonsense if it floats their boat. But I draw a line when acting upon a particular belief, or beliefs, results in actual criminality. Then I would like to see the full force of law applied, without fear or favour. I really don’t think that’s to much to ask for.

Jonathan Marshall

7th February 2020 at 9:44 am

Going fishing are we, Zen?

Jerry Owen

7th February 2020 at 8:15 am

Don’t watch it!
There are plenty of sites on YTube that just pick the best bits where the liberals and left get owned as it were.
I know it’s good to hear what the opposition have to say as it stops you living in a bubble of like minded people. But TBH the quality of QT is so low it really isn’t worth bothering with.
The outrage over Lawrence Fox shows what an imbecilic show it has become.
I watch YTube more than I watch the BBC.

Ed Turnbull

7th February 2020 at 9:31 am

Agreed Jerry, folk should just ignore QT and the Beeb in general, neither has any credibility remaining. Apart from the occasional history programme on BBC4 (and even there you have to be cautious of revisionism) there’s nowt emanating from the Biased Broadcasting Corp worth the smallest moment of my time. Particularly the cringe inducing Dr Woke…sorry *Dr Who* ;-).

Like you I prefer to rely on what I find on YT for news and commentary.

Jerry Owen

7th February 2020 at 2:44 pm

Listening to SKY news at 6 they had a clip where Trump says ‘if I hadn’t have fired Comey I wouldn’t be here’.. thus making him sound that he fired Comey to avoid being removed. However on YTube where they had his speech in full he goes on to say of course that when he fired Comey they were able to get various items of information that showed Comeys’ dirty tactics. This bit SLY missed out.
This is propaganda from Sky by omittance.

jessica christon

8th February 2020 at 11:41 am

The ‘more women and non politicians’ formula hasn’t worked very well for QT; it’s just made it bland. Now and then it has a great moment like the Lawrence Fox thing the other week, but that can be Youtubed. It’s only worth watching the whole thing if they’ve got someone like Peter Hitchens on who’s not afraid to speak his mind, otherwise forget it. I haven’t watched a full QT in ages.

Jerry Owen

6th February 2020 at 9:23 pm

As you say she pre ripped the papers beforehand which rather proves she lied when she said she ripped it up because it was all a pack of lies.

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