Features Australia

Trump, impeachment and the media

30 November 2019

9:00 AM

30 November 2019

9:00 AM

Many of us living in the Westminster parliamentary part of the democratic world don’t have much grasp of what the whole impeachment process actually is in the United States. Some see it as wholly criminal in nature. Others see it as wholly political.  In fact, it’s a blend of those – a blend not seen in the parliamentary world of Australia, Britain, Canada, India, New Zealand, Singapore, etc.

To start, realise that the American Founding Fathers explicitly did not want a British parliamentary set-up. They wanted a republican form of government with a separately chosen head of the executive, a president. And they wanted that president to be not nearly as vulnerable to the machinations of the legislature as is a prime minister in our Westminster system. In our set-up the PM can be forced into an election, and potentially removed, simply by calling and winning a no-confidence vote in the lower house.  Yes, when there is a majority party in control of this House that will rarely if ever happen, true. But it regularly can, and does, happen when there are minority governments. It’s happened throughout the Westminster world many times.

And that’s precisely what the American Founders wanted to avoid; the relatively easy removal of the president on purely political grounds – because remember, they were designing their set-up before the arrival of strong political parties, back when it was even easier to achieve a vote of no-confidence. Think of it in terms of the separation of powers and wanting an executive and legislature co-equal. Now there’s nothing wrong with the comparatively easy removal of a PM by the legislature on purely political grounds, especially when it requires an election to bring it to consummation. Indeed on balance I prefer the Westminster set-up to the American. But that ease of removal of a president on purely political grounds by the legislature is precisely what the American designers of their Constitution did not want.

In fact, some of them argued against any sort of impeachment process at all – in other words, once you elect a president you are stuck with him (so far it’s all ‘hims’ so I use that pronoun accurately).  But they ended up compromising. Congress, the legislative branch in the US, could remove a president, but it would be very difficult indeed. To do so the House of Representatives would need to vote to impeach – meaning to charge the president with conduct worthy of removal – and then the upper house Senate had to have two-thirds of its senators vote to convict. Such a vote has never happened.  Not once. Not even after the US Civil War when Lincoln was assassinated and his VP was a Democrat (the ones who overwhelmingly supported the Confederacy).  Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s replacement, was hated. He was impeached nominally for removing a member of Cabinet – a power no one today denies rests legitimately with the president. The House impeached Johnson but in the Senate enough Republicans broke ranks for the vote to convict to fail by one vote.

The point is that impeachment in the US can be done on purely political grounds but that it is a far, far, far higher bar than with a political vote of no confidence in our system. The phrase is ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’. So it’s not about run-of-the-mill stuff that amounts to not liking a president or disliking his (ditto all you pronoun police) politics or policies. For that you wait till the next election and vote the guy out.

Okay, so turn now to Trump. Watching things from over here in the US you could be forgiven for thinking the whole Democrat impeachment effort rests on the presumed credibility of career diplomats and career intelligence analysts who work in the White House and who seem to hate President Trump’s policies. A visitor from Mars would think that disagreeing with them is some sort of impeachable offence, that American policy on the Ukraine (I refuse to abandon the definite article here) is somehow the property not of the elected president (admittedly a disruptor who signalled that clearly to the voters) but of career bureaucrats.

Add to that the fact that the Democrats have run this impeachment in a way none of the three earlier ones was run. I mean that in terms of procedures. When it came to Johnson, Nixon and Clinton the other party was given all the procedural protections – calling witnesses as they saw fit in the House, subpoenaing whom they wanted and full cross-examination. But none of that has been accorded to the Republicans here. Hearsay is the order of the day with virtually no witnesses having first hand knowledge of the phone call, the bulk of which was released to the public on day one anyway. And these careerist witnesses talk in terms of ‘I presume’ ad nauseum.

As Professor Alan Dershowitz, a life-long Democrat, repeatedly says, none of this rises to the level of an impeachable offence. It may not be pretty. You may not like it. But your remedy is not impeachment. Your remedy is to vote Democrat next year.

And more and more Americans are seeing that. Independents have turned significantly against this impeachment charade. No one, and I mean no one, thinks that two-thirds of the Senate will vote to convict. Trust me, there are more than a few Republican ‘never-Trumpers’, but despite that fact I doubt a single Republican will break ranks, such is the weakness of this impeachment saga.

My prediction is that it will end up helping Trump, the way impeachment helped Bill Clinton win easily a second term. What I don’t understand is why so many journalists are so infected with Trump Derangement Syndrome that they think this impeachment play was a good idea. Or what it is that Trump did that every other president hasn’t done, including Obama. (Example: When the American hostages were in Iran there was a false rumour Dick Cheney asked the Iranians to wait to release them till after Reagan won. Could Carter investigate that, investigate the other party for political gain?  Of course he could.)

Joe Biden’s son was paid millions and millions by an oil company. He knew nothing about the business. His dad bragged about having an investigator fired. Is investigating that off the table? If so, why? Do you think something smells about Biden Jr? If not, why not?

Prediction: This whole thing will help Trump win bigly, greatly and deservedly next year.

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