Impeachment of the president is gaining currency in United States media and political circles, so much that even President Trump is lining up his lawyers in preparation. There is deep seated belief in the establishment that it can restore order and recover the institutions of America when pushed too far. The United States prides in its constitution and system of checks and balances that prevent despotism at the White House. This time, however, gaining back American democracy may not be that simple. It is the very democratic mob that prides in American democracy that is likely to sink the United States as we know it.
President Donald Trump’s position is being compared to Nixon. There are huge differences. Nixon was establishment. He believed in the system although he tried to bend it and rise above it. He may have privately found the institutions of United States stifling but he was adept at managing them and getting away with it. Eventually he lost because he got caught out under ‘obstruction of justice’. Nixon could never publicly denounce the system that has been held sacrosanct by every child and adult in the USA. When impeachment came, he could not say, ‘I don’t respect the constitution, the House of representatives or Judicial system of the United States’. He bowed to the power of the system and left, negotiating his way out.
Donald Trump is different. He didn’t come through the system. He has no political pedigree to speak of. He has no respect for political parties or the political order. He bought his way into a party and rode the road to power through the ‘people of America’. He does not owe any thing to the political establishment except a lot of ire. He has used them and abused them in the past and probably feels he can do that with impunity.
As the Representatives gather courage to call for impeachment, he is likely to appeal above their heads directly to the people. That is how he won the election. He made putty of the system, breaking all traditions during his campaign. He got away by treating women as sex objects, he did not care for Mexican sensitivities when calling them rapists and he did not bother about the famous American cultural salad when communalising politics with his anti Muslim tirades. And yet Mexicans and women voted for him in great numbers, so did some Muslims. As a businessman he has learnt people bow to power and money.
Trump is the master of nonsense. What’s more, he recruits the most serious politicians to stand beside him and repeat his fanciful claims as a chorus. He has just done that in his meteoric Middle East tour. The allegedly hard line Saudi Arabia bit its lips and developed amnesia about all the bad mouthing about it and Islam by Trump, and smiled in acknowledgement as he said he will bring peace where none has been emerging for more than a thousand years. The Messiah cometh.
Then he met Netanyahu and his cabinet on the airport runway repeating the same. Netanyahu looked elated. Israel even forgave Trump compromising it as the intelligence source for the laptop bomb information. And there was no public rebuke in this trip from Israel for his press secretary who had recently said that Islamic State atrocities were worse than Hitler’s holocaust . Trump is so beyond parody so there is no point spoiling his theatre. Best to nod and clap as he says what he is going to do is ‘just beautiful’.
In USA, in impeachment land, Trump has already publicly run down every sacred American institution. He called a judge who stopped his diktat on immigration a ‘so called judge’, the banter of bar talk after losing a case. And then said the entire Circuit 9 should be abolished. Faith in justice is dependent on a belief in the independence and professionalism of the judges. The fiction of the rule of law is maintained by all institutions of the State respecting judges and judgements. When the President of the country accuses judges of being political, what reverence will ordinary people now hold for the Judicial system of America?
Donald Trump has even cast suspicion on the security apparatus, another institution that survives on the fiction of integrity and ‘honesty’. He now says that he is the victim of a witch hunt. He has dismissed the FBI director Mr James Comey and called him a nut! He allegedly asked him whether he was loyal to him (Trump), not the United States! Civil servants, particularly in security services, are not meant to express loyalty to the politician but to the constitution and the country. This was an extraordinary challenge to the independence and integrity of the system.
So much has happened in this brief period of Trump presidency that no one is sure what America stands for now. Among his contempt for office are, openly flouting ground rules against nepotism and failing to properly distance his business Empire from exploitation of office, putting cronies in position with disregard to accepted norms and making mockery of office by tweeting his policies and barks rather than announcing them with the dignity and seriousness required of his office.
America now makes no sense. The president is neither accountable nor does he wish to be accountable. He calls the system rotten. He has even dismissed the constitution as ‘problematic’.
In America, representatives and officials take oath of the constitution and defend it. they don’t make oath to the President. But having taken office, now the President attacks the constitution. He blames the constitution and the checks and balances built in United States system of Governance saying, “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country”. Thus what every child and what every new aspiring citizen of United States has to believe in is being called ‘bad thing for the country’ by the President of the country!
That is where he has crossed the Rubicon and few people have noticed it. What is it that the ‘Representatives’ of the two Houses will try and restore if they move towards impeachment. Is it the respect and responsibilities of the office of the head of the State? Will they be trying to prove that the country is bigger than the man. Will they succeed? the red lines of America have all been made mockery of by him.
What if Trump goes beyond their heads and tweets and talks directly to his supporters. He has prepared the ground. Like him, the mob now probably believes the Judges are political. Like him they probably believe that the security services are ‘the establishment’ engaged in a witch hunt of Trump. And most dangerously, some if not many of them believe that the constitution is outdated, the system is archaic and everything needs to be overhauled so that a wall can be built and Muslims can be banned from coming in without pesky courts intervening or representatives trying to get their two penny worth of brake to his fantasies.
In the imagination of his die hard populist supporters, he has destroyed the credibility of every great institution that is the United States. There is nothing left sacred of America that was built through history. The preservation of none of these institutions warrants his impeachment as far as the mob is concerned.
They will call their Congressmen and Senators to back off. They will hold rallies. They will turn against the ‘rotten establishment’ whatever that is. What will happen then. Will Republican Congressmen hold country, constitution and ethics above votes? Or will they conveniently find FBI and Judges to be at fault. Will he find enough politicians to bow to him, breaking the system for ever.
President Trump came to power stoking and riding populism and he still leads the hanging mob. If he decides that he is above the country and the constitution, he will unleash the mob. That is his army. He has crossed the Rubicon as Caesar did in breaking the republic when it frustrated his political ambition. Trump will mobilise the army of people to bring down ‘Rome, the Republic’. If he succeeds he will embark on dismantling the cobwebs of checks and balances and rebuild it as he wants.
The United States is at a cross roads. His closest adviser believes that history changes every few centuries through bloodshed. Await for Emperor Trump. Or Citizen Trump. Impeachment promises to be another drama unless he decides he has had enough and wants to go back to building ‘Trump Towers’ where he can boss everyone and fire anyone. Can the republic survive Trump?
Jasdev Singh Rai