On Feb. 9, the U.S. Senate is set to begin the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Trump has been accused of inciting the Jan. 6 riot on Capitol Hill. Because the vast majority of Republican Senators support Trump, the American public believe that the chance Trump will actually be convicted is close to zero. Some American media outlets believe that the impending trial is nothing more than political drama.
Unless serious disruptions occur in the impeachment process, the drama will play out according to its current script. Trump is the only president in U.S. history to face two impeachments; the latest count has been brought even though he has left office. While this drama does not hurt Trump very much, objectively speaking, he should be extremely ashamed.
However, as for America’s democratic system, the situation is exactly different. Some supporters of American democracy believe that the second trial is important in and of itself as an expression of democracy, and sends a signal that such behavior from a president is unacceptable. These people want to convey the idea that the American system is still strong. Such an approach is too idealistic given the cruel reality.
First, Trump’s impeachment trial will only serve to intensify the political divide. It is true that Trump lost the election, but with more than 73.8 million votes, he remains the second most popular candidate in U.S. history — second only to Joe Biden, the winner of the presidential race this time around. After Trump’s defeat, political committees set up to challenge the general election results raised approximately $31 million in the last five weeks of 2020. Trump remains a heavyweight player in the political arena.
Though Trump’s reputation was damaged after the riot on Capitol Hill, he still has a base that cannot be ignored. Even The New York Times, which has traditionally expressed negative opinions of Trump, reports that for Trump supporters, the second impeachment proves what they believed all the time, that is to say, the impeachment is nothing but “the culmination of years of unfair treatment by a Washington establishment that was always hostile to Trump and is now trying to end his political career once and for all.” The riot was nothing but a symbol of the politics of hate, and the second impeachment trial will only increase how much Trump supporters resent the system.
Second, Trump’s second impeachment deepens the debate over America’s “core values.” The first point for debate is the Constitution, regarded as the founding document of America. According to reports, Trump’s legal team holds that the trial is unconstitutional, arguing that Trump did not incite violence and that his vocal opposition to the results of the presidential election is protected by the First Amendment. Defense lawyers will also argue that impeaching an outgoing president is, in and of itself, unconstitutional. Even American legal experts do not know how to resolve this issue.
In addition, the trial calls into question core American values such as democratic elections, freedom from violence, and freedom of speech, among others. Whatever the outcome of the trials is, the U.S. political system will split into two, irreconcilable camps. On all of these issues, the impeachment trial will split public opinion ever further.
Third, the trial will highlight the ugly nature of American bipartisan politics. Though a few Republican senators are expected to vote against the interests of the former president, the trial will be decided along party lines. The Democrats are motivated by their own political pursuits — even if Trump cannot be barred from ever running for office again, they hope to tarnish his reputation to the extent that he would have a hard time making a comeback. The Republicans, on the other hand, do not care about justice; even if Trump had incited violence, they would not break from the party line and Trump’s popularity.
Everyone has the right to participate in politics; politicians have a duty to satisfy the greatest number of people and make them content. However, the two-party system in the U.S. ensures that politics is merely a tool for the parties themselves. It is nothing more than a bipartisan struggle. Members of Congress do not care for justice, they oppose each other for the sake of politics and disregard the lived realities of common citizens. What they are staging is merely a political farce.
Is the American system good? Only the American people can tell us. A recent survey conducted by the Associated Press and the National Public Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago found that only 16% of American respondents said that democracy works well or very well. Though the impeachment trial appears to be democracy correcting for its own weaknesses, it is not really doing that. The “beacon of democracy” has been extinguished, and America’s reputation in the eyes of the world has fallen to a new low. The upcoming dramatic trial is not just insulting to the U.S. — it is extremely harmful!
*Editor’s Note: On Feb. 13, the Senate voted to find Donald Trump not guilty of an article of impeachment charging him with inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol.