Just impeach him already

January 11, 2021 09:01
Photo: Reuters

The events on Capitol Hill last Wednesday were heartbreaking – for several reasons.

First, there’s the gruesome violence, vandalism, and an apparent abandon of the fundamental tenets of (republican) democracy – but I shan’t belabour this point, given that many others who are far more qualified have penned their various thoughts on the subject. Amongst them, for what it’s worth, I’d recommend Yoni Applebaum’s take on the Atlantic, as well as POLITICO’s excellent coverage. Fanfare and drumrolls aside, sycophants have swept in to compare apples to oranges – exciting times to be a political pundit, devastating times to be an American.

Second, there’s the fact that the sitting President of the United States had repeatedly refused to concede or reprobate rioters storming the bastion of democratic representation on its soil. Some would term this comeuppance (for what?), though I would suggest that the right to judge, and the right to have the last laugh, lies with those who do not selectively call out injustices when it suits them. In any case, Trump is a tyrant, and his serfs are the 74 million who opted for him in November, as well as his coalition of convenience – of tools who cry foul when it suits them, and fools who cry foul when Trump deems it such.

Third, democratic institutions – and their fundamental emphasis upon checks and balances, fair play, and rule-abiding morality – have not undergone an assault as fundamental as this since World War II. ‘Tis the symbolism that matters: the Washington riots epitomised the intractable divisions that have captured contemporary America – between two parallel communities with divergent value sets and opinionated fanaticism surrounding different figures and myths; between two irreparably divided tribes and segments. America is akin to the “Twin Cities” on the crumbling Hill, a once-shining city that beams light no more.

Critics of American imperialism would posit that the writing had always been on the wall, whilst those who have always held a romanticised, soft spot for American democracy and liberal ideals were gravely disillusioned by the culmination of four years of absolute chaos.

Trump should be impeached. And here’s why.

He has clearly abused his office – whether it be through nepotistic appointments, applying pressures on foreign government officials to extract political gains, and repeatedly harassing electoral officials (see his infamous one-hour long rant at the Georgian secretary of state, imploring the latter to “find more votes” for Trump), Trump’s arbitrary, petulant rule has eroded the robustness and effective legitimacy of institutional rules. He turned the White House into a personal harem – literally or otherwise, rewarding his devotees and cultists with prized positions integral to the country’s operations, whilst condemning those who opposed him, including within his very own (recently adopted) party, to vitriolic abuse by his supporters. The last straw, certainly, was the riots that had descended upon Congress on Wednesday, from which, damningly, Trump has repeatedly declined to distance himself.

Trump has also derelicted his duties – his duties to uphold the due process and respect the verdict settled upon by democratic institutions across both state- and national levels; his duties to listen to the over 80 million people who had voted for his rival, and opted for an alternative, better United States; his duties to not incite violence, to condemn destruction and undermining of law and order. He wantonly and flagrantly abdicated from his responsibilities, and opted instead to bathe in the waning attention and zealous cultism sustained by the deeply enmeshed network of “Deep Fakes”: fake news, fake information, fake intelligence, and fake “authentic” takes on a world that does and has always moved on from those who refuse to listen, who refuse to engage. Trump’s policy successes in certain areas could never outweigh his abhorrent failures in others – specifically, his domestic policy, his butchering of COVID-19 response, and, of course, his complicit involvement in the worst democratic crisis to strike America since the Civil War.

Impeaching Trump is a moral necessity – it reflects the fact that authoritarians in democratic systems cannot get away with abusing their powers to secure self-interested gains; it reflects the democracy’s fundamental commitment to a norm- and rule-based succession logic, which is certainly not easily replicable in other, procedurally unaccountable systems. Above all, it is a necessary move to assure America’s critics that the country’s days are far from over – that there is hope in the resilience of institutions, despite the turbulent ebbs and flows of the past four years.

Impeaching Trump is also a practical necessity. It signals to populists and philanderers that they cannot, will not, and must not get away with exploiting public office for personal gains. It signals the resolve of the newly elected parliamentarians to take down, to put an end – maybe not for once and for all, but at least for good reasons – to the madness that has proliferated in the corridors of Washington D.C. under Trump. Above all, it consigns Trump to the place where he rightfully belongs – in history, or in otherwise: the first American president to have been removed from office through being impeached, and convicted.

History books in the future will reflect upon 2020 as a rather odd year. It was a year when great power politics triumphed over rationality and collective interests; it was also a year when democracy faced a wake-up call – a call for it to take seriously the socioeconomic stratifications and political tribalism that had taken most advanced democracies by storm. Democracy may not be a political system made for everyone – but it’s well worth noting that the “Western” brand of democracy should by no means be taken as the conclusive epitome of what democracy can and should be.

No true Scotsman? You may say. Perhaps, but an ideal democracy is one where rule is by the demos, and for the demos. Authoritarian states may be able to deliver the goods and outcomes that democracies ideally guarantee – but that does not make them democracies. Whether this is a deal-breaker, deal-maker, or a deal-negator, is a question of subjective preferences, but also a question of one’s fundamental moral beliefs. Until then, let’s bin Trump already – let’s impeach the guy.

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Assistant Professor, HKU