With 232 votes in favour (including 10 Republicans voting yes), US President Donald Trump was impeached in the House of Representatives on 13th of January for having “engaged in insurrection”. The move to impeach comes as a reaction to the breaching of and attack on Capitol building by a mob of Trump supporters on 6th January. As a result of the violence in the Capitol that day, five people lost their lives.
Trump, who had given a speech that day prior to the riots, has been accused of inciting his supporters to march to and attack the Capitol. Many believe his speech, along with his continued denial of the 2020 US election results, is directly responsible for the assault that took place. This has led Democrats to quickly make the move to impeach him, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the helm.
This is Trump’s second impeachment. He was previously impeached in the House in December 2019, being accused of “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress”. At the time, while the vote was in favour of impeachment in the House, it did not get through in the Senate. This time, the results in the Senate may turn out to be different given some Republicans have switched sides. While no Republican member supported Trump’s impeachment in 2019, 10 of them voted in support of it in the House last Wednesday. If the views remain, enough votes might be secured to impeach him this time. Republican congressman Dan Newhouse voted for the impeachment, explaining that, “there was a domestic threat at the door of the capitol and he [Trump] did nothing to stop it”.
The odd part of these proceedings is that the Senate trial itself would happen after Trump’s presidency ends. This has led many to question the significance of impeachment at this point; given that the damage is already done and Trump will be leaving anyway.
Democrats have still insisted on the impeachment, stating two major reasons: one, that it sets an example to any future leader who tries to jeopardise democratic processes and side with violence, and, two, that they can impede Trump from holding office in future.
While these are legitimate reasons, the larger picture should also be considered here, as there is a huge possibility that these proceedings might further incite as well as isolate Americans who side with Trump.
There is already news of possible demonstrations and “armed protests” being planned in various cities across the US against Joe Biden taking office. Along with that, Trump has been barred and banned from various social media platforms in the last few weeks – first Twitter, then Facebook and Instagram, followed by the suspension of his YouTube channel. This, along with the far-right platform Parler going down, has upset his supporters further. While some discussions and communication can be curbed by such measures, it is in no way a solution to Trumpism. In fact, this approach could lead to further dissatisfaction among the pro-Trump populace, making any reconciliation difficult.
While it is important to condemn the violence and attack, and the people involved in it, reconciliation must be prioritised. In these circumstances, it is vital to reassure the public, instil trust among them and maintain calm. Representatives would not win anything if they manage to impeach Trump but fail to bridge the divide that exists among US citizens.
While the consequences of the impeachment for the larger public can be debated, this is again only a short-term solution. The US simultaneously needs to consider the long-term too. It would be a mistake to think that issues of misinformation, polarisation and extremism start and end with Trump. The issues are bigger, need a rethinking of the political space and definitely go beyond Trump’s impeachment.
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