To say Thursday morning’s impeachment of American Donald Trump is momentous is to restate the obvious.
To say Thursday morning’s impeachment of American Donald Trump is momentous is to restate the obvious. In its almost 250 year history, this will be the third time America has used this weapon against its President. The impeachment of a President and his possible removal from office is one of the checks that writers of America’s constitution instituted to preclude the possibility of misuse of power by an otherwise very powerful President. Ring any bells? It is a two-stage process that commences with a vote in the House of Representatives. This “vote on the content of the charge sheet” is what is referred to as impeachment, which, if successful, is then followed by a trial in the Senate. A decision by two thirds majority in the Senate would lead to a removal from office. No President has ever been removed from office through this process but there have been two, now three, successful impeachments.
The first President to be successfully impeached was Andrew Jackson in 1869 as a result of disputes between him and Congress after the American civil war. Most of my readers will recall the second impeachment; the infamous and successful “Monica Lewinsky” impeachment and the subsequent Senate trial of President Bill Clinton in 1998. Both Jackson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate, their interlocutors having failed to garner the majority votes required to send them home. Richard Nixon of the Watergate fame resigned from office before his impeachment; he would most probably have been sent home.
This week, Donald Trump joined this roll of dishonour. The surprise is that it took this long to impeach Trump. Within the first months of his Presidency, there were sufficient murmurs that he was engaging in conduct so unbecoming that any other President would have been impeached. Within a few months, several of his close associates, including his former campaign chair and his personal lawyer were in jail, for activities carried out partly during their association with him. The most serious allegations however surrounded the almost lack of boundaries between his private interests and his public office, issues which previous Presidents had at least hidden from public view. The Democrats were however aware that if they pushed what looked like an obvious political impeachment, they would pay the price at the polls, since Trump would manage to label it a “Washington establishment” conspiracy in revenge against him for “draining the swamp”.
But “Ukrainegate” was the last straw. Evidence presented showed that Trump had abused office by attempting to tie aid to this needy American ally to them finding dirt on his leading Democratic Party contender, Joe Biden. Trump did not make it any easier to pursue the impeachment, ordering all his staff not to cooperate with the House, thus leading to the second Article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. The matter now heads to the Senate where it is expected that just like the House of Representatives, the vote will be totally partisan, thus leading to a Senate acquittal. Without any doubt this process leaves Trump stained, even if he is acquitted. Every time impeachment is talked about, he will be mentioned and his raucous Presidency analysed and re-analysed. But it has also left the American political system wounded. What was intended to be a tool for objective oversight of the Presidency has now been turned into a farcical show of political strength.
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Trump has successfully convinced Republican voters that this is a witchhunt and the Democrats may pay a heavy price at the 2020 polls. But the danger is that the next time any President abuses his powers, politics of the day will trump (pun intended) the constitution and public interest. For countries like Kenya who have adopted the American system to a large measure, this is a telling example of what happens when constitutional principles are sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics. What is however admirable is absence of allegations of bribery and other undue influence in the American process. One rues for the day the same will be said of Kenya’s political processes when stakes are so high.