By the time this magazine edition is published, Joe Biden will be President of the United States. This new chapter in American politics will be marred by the chaotic and unprecedented climax of the outgoing administration; one that saw impeachment, riots, death and destruction in the space of several days leading up to the inauguration. In this article, I aim to give you a brief snapshot and answer some crucial questions.
Donald Trump was impeached for the second time on January 13th, a first in US history and one that means that the 45th President now holds half of all impeachments (the other two belonging to Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton). So what does impeachment mean, and what are the consequences?
An impeachment is where a member of public office is charged with misconduct, and is performed by the legislative body of the government. It is a two-stage process, one stage for each chamber of Congress. Firstly, articles of impeachment are put to the House of Representatives having been referred to the relevant committees. The articles are debated and subsequently voted on and only require a simple majority (50% + 1 additional vote) to pass.
Passing this through the House has happened on both attempts for President Trump, but it does not remove the President from office – it instead enables the next step, the Senate trial. The passing in the lower house was essentially guaranteed due to Republicans being the minority.
The Senate trial is supervised by the Supreme Court before Senators vote on convicting the president. Approval requires a two-thirds majority, much harder than the House’s simple one. However, with Trump leaving office, alongside a muddied national sentiment due to the Capitol riots, some Republicans are feeling more comfortable with opposing him (10 voted against him in the House). Still, conviction would require nineteen of the fifty Republican Senators to unprecedentedly break rank, and the vote failed in Trump’s last Senate trial.
But what if there is a two-thirds majority? Among penalties like losing his $200,000 a year pension, Trump would be barred from ever running for office again. Trump and his team have woven a narrative of a “stolen election” and have undoubtedly set the scene for a potential run in 2024; Senate conviction would solidify that possibility’s death, which could greatly accelerate a shift away from Trumpism.
So what did Trump do to warrant this? Last time this happened, he was charged with soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election by requesting information on Joe and Hunter Biden from Ukraine and obstructing Congressional investigations. This time, it was due to accusations of inciting violence. On January 6th, at the “Save America” rally in Washington, DC, he continued to sow doubts about media legitimacy, labelling the Democrats as “radical left”, and also called for VP Pence to intervene with Congress ratifying the election results, which he lacks the constitutional authority to do. Most importantly, his arguments surrounding the supposedly “fraudulent” election had very serious undertones, and were made quite explicitly. To quote the President:
“We will not let them silence your voices”
“We fight like Hell and if you don’t … you’re not going to have a country anymore”
JustSecurity has documented the last year of Trump’s rhetoric, and some of the highlights include:
- Consistent support of armed protestors
- A refusal to accept the election results and commit to a peaceful transfer of power
- Failure to condemn armed white supremacist groups
- Consistent undermining of the election
- Reportedly ignoring aides telling him to intercede with the Capitol riots
This list is far from exhaustive and does not touch on those in his circle, but the necessity of doing so is in question. Trump will be put on trial by the Senate for inciting acts of violence that led to the death of five people in early January. Whether he is voted against by the needed majority or not is almost impossible to anticipate, but irrespective of that, by the time of this publication, the Biden administration will have begun a determined transformation to undo prominent changes made during Trump’s presidency, but it may not be the last we have heard of the 45th President.
1) Moment Nancy Pelosi gavels the passing of impeachment articles in the House of Representatives (https://www.pennlive.com/news/2021/01/the-trump-impeachment-what-did-pennsylvanias-congressmen-and-women-have-to-say-about-it.html)
2) Trump supporters clash with security and police at the Capitol (https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/1/14/the-capitol-riot-exposed-police-double-standards)