America’s choice: Healing and competing, or punishing

A cartoon showing a U.S. racing car leave the track to try to run down former President Trump as he is playing golf
The U.S. is wasting political energy trying to punish Donald Trump when far more important issues are demanding Washington’s attention (Source: GIS)

Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on January 20. His predecessor Donald Trump left the White House and headed to Florida.

Former President Trump and his supporters contested the election result, claiming fraud was committed. A significant part of the U.S. population believes that the election was “stolen,” and conspiracy theories are proliferating. The split in U.S. society is deepening, as was evident during the Trump presidency.

After the storming of the Capitol on January 6, the Democrats and, especially, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, decided to push for another impeachment procedure against Mr. Trump. The House of Representatives voted to impeach him one week before his term was due to expire. The trial, in which the House will prosecute the case and senators will act as the jury, is now in the Senate’s hands. A two-thirds majority – if all 100 senators were seated at the time of the trial, it would require all the Democrats plus 17 Republican senators – will be needed to agree to convict for the impeachment to succeed.

There is also doubt whether a former president’s impeachment is constitutional
Calls to impeach President Trump (and prosecute members of his family) to prevent them from returning to politics were heard in Washington even before the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump had already been accused over various issues, and there had been a previous, unsuccessful attempt to impeach him for his alleged collusion with Russia. These accusations, which remained unproven, blocked political activities for years. The new impeachment process will only prolong the agony. 

It is far from assured that the necessary majority will be reached in the Senate, even though Mitt Romney, a prominent Republican senator, and a few other Republicans, support the impeachment. There is also considerable doubt whether a former president’s impeachment is constitutional, as argues this New York University and Hoover Institution scholar.

But no matter how politically futile, mudslinging appears to be a popular sport in Washington. The case of Hillary Clinton’s emails, for example, revealed a certain carelessness on the side of the former secretary of state but did not deserve the storm it triggered. Far more important issues demanded attention at the time.

These days, the Biden administration faces the ongoing spread of the Covid pandemic and the urgent need to tackle its economic and social consequences. It also must address the immediate and escalating conflict with China

The impeachment procedure is likely to backfire. If it succeeds, Donald Trump could be barred from holding any federal office again, including that of president. This is the basic argument of the impeachment’s proponents. But the whole affair will be widely seen as an attempt to seek revenge.

A large part of the American population perceives the situation as proof that there indeed has been a conspiracy by the political establishment against the outsider businessman and patriot Trump, who defended American interests. The labeling of what happened at the Capitol as “domestic terrorism” only adds to the suspicion.

The U.S party system, a pillar of the country’s democracy, may end up damaged in the process. A weakening or breaking up of the Republican Party has become a threat. Longer-term, the Democrats may also fracture along the divide between that party’s moderate section and its radicalized left wing.

The impeachment, although spearheaded by Congressional Democrats, is not in the interest of the Biden administration. It will block the flow of political energy and split the country further. President Biden started his term with a promise to heal the wounds and reunite Americans. The vengefulness of the former president’s impeachment contradicts this pledge and is an exercise in futility. It will also be seen as a sign of the Democrats’ weakness: it betrays a fear that Donald Trump is likely to be reelected if allowed to run in 2024. This undermines the Biden presidency, as it shows that for Washington’s ruling elite, punishing Mr. Trump is more important than fulfilling their pledge for national reconciliation and healing. 

Impeaching former President Trump would mark a very bad start for the new administration, even if President Biden does not get involved in the proceedings. 

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