log in

Second impeachment puts Trump in first place among lords of misrule

The Guardian - Wed Jan 13 23:51

Sign up for the Guardian's First Thing newsletter

Donald Trump, Donald Trump (so good they impeached him twice).

It was always going to end this way. A presidency centered on fear, rage and division is climaxing in a Grand Guignol of three acts at the US Capitol in Washington: last Wednesday’s insurrection, this Wednesday’s impeachment, next Wednesday’s inauguration.

As Barack Obama noted after act one, “we’d be kidding ourselves if we treated it as a total surprise”.

What remains uncertain is whether this is the moment that the fever breaks and the nation gets back on track or merely a harbinger of further polarisation, violence and decline.

Liz Cheney and nine other Republicans who joined Democrats in a 232-197 bipartisan vote to impeach Trump did not provide a comprehensive answer to that question. Yes, it was 10 more than the first impeachment just over a year ago and, yes, there are cracks in the dam. But it has not yet burst.

And certainly on this Wednesday, with its besieged capital being prised from the grasp of a would-be autocrat, America resembled the sort of fragile state that it used to think it was in the business of rescuing and rebuilding.

Barriers, checkpoints and a ring of steel had been erected on Capitol Hill. Members of the national guard, with masks, guns and military garb, could be seen sleeping on hard floors in the hallways of the Capitol. The last time troops were quartered here was during the American civil war; there were more of them than in Afghanistan or Iraq today.

Inside the chamber, where members wore masks under strict new coronavirus rules, the historic day began with a prayer from R Adm Margaret Grun Kibben, the House chaplain. She noted that last week “we found ourselves seizing the scales of justice from the jaws of mobocracy”.

But it did not take long for partisanship to bare its teeth. Although this process has been much speedier than Impeachment One, which sanctioned Trump for pressuring Ukraine for political favours, there were again angry speeches from both sides.

The House of Representatives votes to impeach Donald Trump for the second time in little over a year.
The House of Representatives votes to impeach Donald Trump for the second time in little over a year. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democrats came to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said: “The president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our common country. He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love.”

Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, followed up: “Donald Trump has constructed a glass palace of lies, fearmongering and sedition. Last Wednesday, on January 6th, the nation and the world watched it shatter to pieces.”

Case closed? No, this is still Trump’s Republican party. They played the cards of cancel culture, national healing and whataboutism and somehow they kept straight faces.

The Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, regarded as a loyal Trump attack dog, countered: “Democrats are going to impeach the president for a second time one week – one week – before he leaves office. Why? Why? Politics, and the fact that they want to cancel the president.”

Andy Biggs, another Trump loyalist, warned: “Yours will be a pyrrhic victory for instead of stopping the Trump train, his movement will grow stronger, for you will have made him a martyr.”

And Matt Gaetz of Florida complained: “It seems to me impeachment is an itch that doesn’t go away with just one scratch.” He went on to draw a false equivalence with last summer’s mostly peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, accusing Trump’s foes of lighting “actual flames, actual fires”. Democrats yelled objections.

What was most shocking, perhaps, was not that 10 conservative Republicans discovered a spine after three years and 11 months of the Trump presidency, but that nearly 200 were still willing to go down with the ship and perpetuate his big lie about election fraud. Their masters are not party leaders but the cult-like “Maga nation” of grassroots Trump fans and rightwing media.

More troops were on duty at the Capitol on Wednesday than in Afghanistan or Iraq.
More troops were on duty at the Capitol on Wednesday than in Afghanistan or Iraq. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Leader Kevin McCarthy summed up the soul tormenting conflict, admitting that Trump “bears responsibility” for the mob violence yet insisting: “A vote to impeach will further divide the nation. A vote to impeach will further fan the flames of partisan division.”

Some observers might find this pretty rich from the party of voter suppression, border wall and “Lock her up!” In essence, their argument was we can’t impeach him because it would upset the domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol eager to hang his vice-president, Mike Pence.

Cori Bush, a new Democratic member, made the point for justice and accountability more pithily than most. “We have a mandate to legislate in defense of Black lives. The first step in that process is to root out white supremacy starting with impeaching the white supremacist-in-chief.” (She tweeted later: “What does it mean when they boo the Black congresswoman denouncing white supremacy?”)

Indeed, the putsch against the US government was hardly unexpected in a country led by a man with a peculiar penchant for Confederate statues. Congressman Cedric Richmond, on his way to joining the Biden administration, referred to “some of my colleagues, some of whom may well be co-conspirators”, before concluding: “Simply put, we told you so. Richmond out.”

But unlike the last impeachment circus, this time there was an eerie silence in the digital universe. Trump may be more aggrieved by having his favourite toy, Twitter, taken away than now owning half the presidential impeachments in history; Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are mere also rans.

But his fate in a Senate trial, whenever it happens, is less certain than first time around and will tell much about the future of the Republican party and America. As Oscar Wilde almost said, to lose one impeachment vote may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like you’re in the wrong job.