From the time of Donald Trump’s shock election to the U.S. presidency in 2016, his most bitter political enemies in the United States have called for him to be impeached to force him from office.
Originally, the allegation was made that he had been falsely elected in 2016 as a result of collusion with Russia.
But when that allegation was subject to independent investigation and shown to be untrue, Trump’s political enemies cast around for other grounds of impeachment.
They settled on an allegation that the U.S. President had improperly sought to influence the next presidential election by damaging the reputation of Joe Biden, one of the possible Democrat candidates, who served as Vice-President under Democrat President Barack Obama.
Under the American Constitution, an impeachment process is initiated in the House of Representatives, but the trial itself takes place before the Senate.
The issue of impeachment did not get any traction until after 2018, because the Republican Party, which is united behind Donald Trump, controlled both Houses of Congress from 2016 to 2018, and because moderate Democrats believed it would be seen to be motivated by “sour grapes”, and be rejected as vindictive by the electorate.
After the Democrats captured control of the House of Representatives in 2018, vitriolic anti-Trump Democrats demanded that the party push for Trump’s impeachment.
Despite the reluctance of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, they secured a majority to force the commencement of impeachment proceedings against Trump in the House of Representatives last year.
In early December 2019, they secured a majority in the lower house to impeach the President, with the near unanimous support of the Democrats and the total opposition of Republicans.
Over a month later, they conveyed this decision to the U.S. Senate after failing to get the Senate to agree to their proposals for the conduct of the trial.
All these details highlight the extent to which the impeachment process has been political, rather than judicial.
The U.S. Constitution says: “The President … shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours.”
The wording of the Constitution makes clear that it is intended to apply only to the gravest and most serious misdeeds or crimes; and, whatever one thinks about the wisdom of Trump’s public telephone conversation with the Ukrainian President, it does not compare with treason, bribery or similar crimes.
Other republics with strong presidencies – including Germany, Brazil and Russia – have provision for impeachment embedded in their constitutions. However, in these countries, a vote for impeachment is usually followed by a trial in the highest court in the land. The U.S. Constitution makes provision for the trial to be conducted by the Senate, inevitably making the process highly political.
Just as the impeachment of Donald Trump began as a partisan political attack on the President, designed to wound him in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, it seems certain to end as a vote along party lines in the Senate, where the Republicans have a clear majority.
There is no possibility that the Democrats will secure the two-thirds majority required to convict the President.
American polls suggest that the impeachment has not hurt President Trump’s popularity but, rather, has entrenched existing political opinions and deepened the political divide.
The latest polls show Trump neck-and-neck with possible Democrat candidates; but, with voluntary voting, a resurgent American economy and the Democrats deeply divided on who should stand against Trump, the impeachment process will have little impact next November, except to solidify Trump’s voting base.