The US Senate’s decision to acquit former president Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial is clearly a victory for the former president and his Republican Party, but a larger failure for US’ much trumpeted political system and democracy. And here are some takeaways.
First, the acquittal is a partisan decision which reflects increasingly polarisation of US politics and the division of American people.
Seven Republican senators joined 50 Democrats to convict Trump for inciting the January 6 Capitol riot, falling short of the 67 guilty votes needed. The outcome was not a surprise to the world as a significant bipartisan vote was difficult to realise because Trump, though dethroned from the White House, still holds huge sway in the US.
US Democrats must have hoped to secure a conviction to hold Trump accountable for the Capitol siege, and the impeachment trial was an attempt by the Biden administration and the Democrats to keep Trump and his followers at bay. In the end, only seven Republicans broke from their party rank.
Second, Trump still owns a lot of hardcore supporters in the Senate and the House of Representatives who value political power and partisan politics more than principles and constitutional democracy.
The 43 Republican senators who acquitted Trump must have forgotten how they fled their chambers on January 6 when Trump urged his ultra-rightest supporters to “fight like hell” in order to overturn the results of a fair and free election in which he lost to President Joe Biden.
Trump had apparently engaged in anti-democratic acts, difficult to imagine in the eyes of the world, but the majority of Republican members of the Congress have chosen to stand by him. The Republican senators’ reluctance to convict Trump was a failure of civic responsibility, and as elected politicians, they have put their own political gains above the fate of their country.
Third, the US is surrendering its moral authority. The impeachment trial against Trump was about law and justice, the very ideals that have been trampled to the ground by the Republicans.
Former US president Bill Clinton was impeached by then House of Representatives, controlled by Republicans, in 1998, on grounds of perjury to a grand jury on his adultery affair with an intern at the White House.
The Republicans were determined to humiliate Clinton and his family by launching the impeachment. Trump, first impeached for threatening the Ukraine government to investigate Biden and his son, and then charged for insurrection incitement to storm the Capitol, a much graver crime as compared to Clinton’s misdemeanour, has got away with two acquittals. The US congressional jurors’ system seems to be seriously problematic, if not totally flawed.
Last, to rebuild US’ global leadership remains the ambition of President Biden. But he faces a tough road ahead as the US remains deeply mired in Trump’s toxic legacy. Biden himself has deplored the American democracy is fragile.
Trump will go down in history as a disgraced president who escaped conviction after a trial that proved his endangerment to his country in every possible way. However, it is ironic in such a divided society as the US is that his popularity remains intact despite his disgrace.
A CNBC survey conducted in the days before Trump’s impeachment trial finds a large share of Republicans want him to remain head of their party.
Trump’s damage to US-touted universal democratic values as well as US global reputation is beyond measurement. While Biden’s first love is foreign policy, he may find the woes on the US soil will largely hinder the realization of his foreign policy goals and his intention of saving the US depleted international standing in the coming four years.
In a statement after the trial, the acquitted and emboldened Trump told his supporters that “our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun.” The acquittal leaves him free to run for office in 2024. If he does, perhaps the world has to prepare for another episode of democratic farce in the self-acclaimed beacon of democracy.
The author is an editor with the Global Times.