President Donald Trump was impeached by the United States House of Representatives on December 18, 2019, making him only the third president in American history to be impeached. Impeachment does not mean being removed from office. Rather, the articles of impeachment which were approved by the House now go to the Senate, where a full trial will be held to determine if Trump will be removed from office. The articles accuse Trump of withholding military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and obstruction of Congress. If two thirds of the Senate were to find Trump guilty, he would be the first president ever to be removed from office by impeachment. However, this seems unlikely given that the Senate has a comfortable Republican majority which still seems to almost entirely support Trump, despite the personal and political turbulence of his presidency. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the process, “the most rushed, least thorough, and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.” Additionally, McConnell is working closely with White House lawyers in setting the process and rules of the trial. When push comes to shove, Trump being removed from office is highly unlikely. Still, the House’s vote marks a historic moment in American politics.
The impeachment inquiry began after a whistleblower made a complaint regarding a call between President Trump and the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodomyr Zelensky. A rough transcript of the call was later released which showed that Trump used 391 million dollars in military aid from the United States as a bargaining chip in getting an investigation which would benefit him politically. Democrats have accused Trump of using his elected office for personal gain. The constitution says that a President “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanours”. The latter category is generally agreed to be very broad, and Democrats say that Trump’s actions fall into it. The two articles of impeachment drafted by House Democrats accuse Trump of abuse of power for his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of justice for his response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry. Importantly, impeachment is a political process rather than a criminal one. This means that Trump being removed from office is independent of if he actually committed a crime. Because impeachment does not work like a standard criminal trial, the Republicans in the Senate actually get to shape the rules of the trial including what can and cannot be shown as evidence. In the end, the senators will vote as jurors and if 67 or more of them vote for removal, Trump will be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence , who previously served as the governor of Indiana and is widely known for his anti-LGBTQ policies and beliefs.
Trump has been the target of impeachment efforts by House Democrats since his first day as President, and, in fact, this is the fourth time that articles of impeachment have been drafted, but the only time they have reached the House floor from the House Judiciary Committee. Speaker of the House and Democrat from California, Nancy Pelosi, intentionally waited before bringing any charges against Trump in order to avoid the political damage of making claims against Trump that were not well founded. At this point, entering a Presidential election year, it is hard to tell what the lasting effects of impeachment will be. Even if Trump were removed from office, Mike Pence would only be President until next January. Come November, the impeachment may actually empower the Republican base, among which only 10% supports Trump’s removal from office and the vast majority of which sees the articles of impeachment as a purely partisan move by Democrats. On the other hand, 80% of Democrats support Trump’s removal from office and it would leave the Republicans without a clear candidate for president. Overall, 47% of Americans support Trump’s removal from office.
This marks a tipping point in the split in political ideologies of Americans when many consider the United States to be the most divided since the civil war. Although impeachment attempts were made against both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, this is the only one to be passed by the House or even come close to being passed. But what Democrats see as a moral imperative to stop Trump’s abuse of power, Republicans see as a ‘witch hunt’ purely based on partisan desires. The effects of this divide will far outlast Trump’s presidency. Whether or not Trump is removed from office, the 2020 election at all levels has already been radically redefined by impeachment, illustrated by its prominent role in the most recent Democratic Presidential debate in Los Angeles. If Americans cannot begin to see eye to eye on these issues, the fundamental concepts that unite this nation begin to crumble, namely a shared belief in the universality of the Constitution. Between impeachment, Trump’s re-election campaign, and the possibility of war with Iran, 2020 will perhaps be one of the most politically turbulent years of the past century. The question for this brand new year is: will the lawmakers in Washington who have been elected by the American people finally be able to put politics aside to hold an unbiased trial into whether or not President Donald Trump violated the Constitution, or will there just be more of the same hyperpartisan political theater which has become all too familiar in recent years while America slowly crumbles?