There’s lots of talk from the chattering class about removing the president. But what are they even talking about?
Donald Trump wouldn’t tell you this himself (of course not: he’s the most successful president of all time), but he’s no longer in hot water. No. The most powerful man in the world is now taking a leisurely backstroke in the actual toilet, and it’s all to do with one mechanism dreamt up in article one of the American constitution: impeachment.
Most will’ve heard this term a lot of late, sure. Those who haven’t should perhaps check their vitals immediately. But, as something defined by a small group of men in 1787, it’s complex, and archaic - a bit like a travel insurance form before you visit the Land Of The Freewheeling Healthcare Industry.
And yet the chattering classes bandy the term about with wild abandon, as if you, I or even the current occupants of the White House understand the parameters of impeachment (let’s be honest, the Trumps probably don’t). So as the shadow of a general ejection looms ever larger, we uncrack the impetus behind impeachment, what it all means, and how Donny Troll got himself into this highly entertaining, and really quite serious situation.
The American political system is outdated: a craggy geriatric that refuses to retire, and instead works in an office that’s flooded, ablaze and falling down all at once. Still, the system is codified by the Constitution - a document written over 220 years ago upon America’s establishment as a nation - and thus revered by a populace that, by civilisation’s standards, is still a furious teenager deciding between Usher and My Chemical Romance. That means Americans tend to vehemently defend the diktats within, no matter how outdated. Case in point: giving very poorly people the right to buy machine guns.
Impeachment is no different. Conceived as a means to remove political wrong’uns from office, the Constitution limits grounds of impeachment to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours.” But nobody really said in exact terms what such crimes were. Nobody foresaw scandals like affairs with interns, and deleted emails and Russian cybermeddling, either. A certain Alexander Hamilton (yes, the founding father who inspired that one slightly-less-annoying musical you never got tickets for) defined impeachable offences as “the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust”, which is a little clearer, but still a bit IKEA in terms of assembly.
It all depends on a body called the United States House of Representatives. As one of three elected arms of the US government (the other two being the Senate, and the White House), a committee must investigate any supposed crime, then propose the case - and the articles of impeachment - to the entire house. If a majority vote finds that crimes have indeed occurred, the defendant has been impeached.
Then things start to really kick off. Nominated house members present the case to the Senate, Ally McBeal style, and each side can call witnesses to testify. So political aides, campaign staff, the fairly racist curtain-twitcher from across the road, etc. In such viral times, too, you can expect lots of Twitter videos of prolific politicians absolutely losing their head, and sentiments largely divided across party lines.
Following several days of testimony, the Senate then votes: all 100 elected members. If a supermajority of two thirds find that, yes, the president is indeed a real piece of work, then he’s gone. And no, he’s not allowed to pardon himself either. He’ll lose his job, the vice president takes charge (unless he’s involved too, of course) and we all wait for the next administration to carpet bomb a Middle Eastern nation or exploit the affections of a 22 year old.
A combination of things have long put the White House on shaky ground. But on this occasion, the impeachment surrounds Trump’s phone calls with the Ukranian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. In those leaks, the Donald, in his ever-eloquent way, encouraged a foreign government to investigate an American man that was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings.
That man is Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president Joe Biden, and the current frontrunner to take on Donald Trump in 2020’s election. Trump allegedly desired scandal to prove that, once again, the Democrats are the corrupt ones. ‘Lock him up’ will work just as well the second-time round.
The problem here is that, well, you can’t really be asking foreign governments to help you out in an election. It is highly unusual, and reputable foreign policy veterans have expressed total disbelief. Adam Schiff, a high-ranking Democrat overseeing the impeachment proceedings, summed it up perfectly in his opening statement: "If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?"
Seems unlikely. Despite practically drinking the swamp water he promised to drain, Trump has the odds in his favour by the simple make-up of the Senate: his party, the Republicans, have a working majority of three.
Wait, these people are elected to serve the public, you cry, defenders of democracy! And you’d be right. But in such times, hyper-partisanship is rife, and Republicans and Democrats rarely find common ground these days. If keeping schtum about your treacherous, lecherous line manager means you stay in power, then fingers on lips, please.
What’s more, the American public remains largely split on Trump’s ejection. Polling website FiveThirtyEight found that 48.8% want Trump impeached, compared to 43.5% that don’t. It’s not difficult to see why. Impeachment is woefully complex. And, following state-sponsored Russian interference, undue conflicts of interests, Ivanka Trump seemingly fancying herself leader of the free world, Trump lawyers being forced to lie, and, lest we forget, a small army of women that’ve accused the president of sexual assault, the Biden-Ukrainian scandal may well just be another drop in the big, toxic ocean of Trump’s America - and may God continue to bless it.