Saturday, December 21, 2019

Voters will have final verdict on Trump

Donald Trump once put his penchant for showmanship down to his mother, a Scottish migrant born into poverty who made a life for herself as a New York philanthropic socialite with a distinctive "orange swirl" coiffure after marrying an up-and-coming real estate developer. While Mary Trump died in 2000, long before her son took the oath of office as America's 45th president, you have to wonder what she would make of his performance so far. History will have plenty to deliberate on.

One episode that will be hotly contested is the bid by Mr Trump's opponents to banish him from the White House using impeachment, a constitutional trigger that has never been pulled successfully since the founding fathers inked it into the constitution in 1789.

An impeachment rally in Washington. Credit:Telegraph Herald

Last week, the US House of Representatives did their part, passing two articles of impeachment accusing him of abusing the powers of the presidency and obstructing Congress. The vote brought to a head months of rancorous debate about what role Mr Trump played in pressuring Ukraine to dig up damaging information on one of his main Democratic challengers for the presidency next year, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.

The case against the President began with a whistleblower, an anonymous intelligence officer willing to put pen to paper over his concerns about a call Mr Trump's made with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Then came the transcript, revealing how Mr Trump used the call to coerce Mr Zelensky to investigate discredited allegations against Joe and Hunter Biden. The exchange came shortly after the President withheld millions of dollars in US military aid to Ukraine.

That was enough for Democrats to kick off impeachment, and "quid pro quo" entered the Washington lexicon. Was Mr Trump really using US military aid as a bargaining chip, putting personal political gain before national security? The public hearings that followed gave voice to several senior diplomats who openly contested their commander in chief's adamant view that the call was a "perfect conversation", arguing that Mr Trump used his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to put pressure on Ukraine. His cover had been blown.

But the facts were not about to get in the way of partisan politics. The mood of America captured in polling makes plain a country well versed in the black and white politics of division. Winning the argument is not really on the agenda, with both sides having to accept the diminished power of persuasion when entrenched views take hold.

The final chapter of this impeachment will take place in the Senate, where Mr Trump will be put on trial, with Democrats attempting to convince enough Republicans to make up the two-thirds majority required to terminate Mr Trump's time in the White House. It's an uphill battle.

While most Republicans have fallen into line with the Trump administration's rhetoric, even those less enamoured by the President still question whether his actions reach the level of high crimes and misdemeanours that impeachment requires. You have to wonder though, if a US president actively undermining America's geopolitical goal of preserving Ukraine as a ballast against an aggressive Russia fails the impeachment test, what would?

The Senate trial offers little hope of clarity on this issue, with even America's founding fathers accepting it would always be a political, not a judicial process. There are no impartial jurors to decide on what is fact and fiction, guilty or not. Mr Trump will most likely survive to contest the next election, when the people will be the final arbitrators on whether he really is fit to be president.

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