US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (Image: AP/ Jacquelyn Martin)

The trial to acquit President Donald Trump of the impeachment charges against him is well underway, with the US Senate sitting until Saturday night, and then resuming next week.

The full solemnity of the occasion is measured in the silly rules that are applied to the 100 senators during their more than 12-hour days: no talking to each other, no electronics, no food.

Party leaders serve as Senate officers to prosecute and defend. The fantasy of Trump sat in a dock hearing the charges against him is exactly that; the president is instead at Davos, yelling at Greta Thunberg, and apparently watching the trial from Air Force One.

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To convict the president — this is your regular reminder that he has already been impeached — 67 votes are required.

The Republicans have a 53-47 majority, so barring evidence of… I don’t know what — I can’t think of any wholly new thing that would meet the standard, short of tape of Trump saying “fuck America, show me the money” — Trump will be acquitted.

Since the Republicans control the impeachment trial process, there won’t be any such surprise.

The two charges are abuse of power, for Ukraine-gate — we appear to have stopped using the “-gate” suffix, a sure sign of an era shift — and obstruction of Congress, for the way in which the White House has resisted the investigation itself. 

Watching the thing burble on through the Australian night, one was struck by the combination of history, tedium and fait accompli.

Here is the trial of a leader with the de jure control of a nuclear arsenal and armed forces at his disposal, with removal from office the penalty. Removal from office de jure also.

There’s no guarantee that Trump would go if convicted. But, of course, he won’t be convicted, so these momentous doings are evacuated of content — save of course for the tiny detail that the emptiness of said process is a sure sign that the US system of government has internally collapsed.

Because Trump should be convicted. It’s an open-and-shut case.

The linking of aid to Ukraine with its investigation of Trump’s potential rival Joe Biden (through his son, Hunter) is so brazen, and the White House’s obstruction so unconstitutional, that, well, this is exactly the sort of thing that impeachment articles were put into the constitution for.

The paradox of the US is that it survived after the War of Independence only by throwing out the idea of “freedom” it had fought for — 13 free states (slaves exempt) in weak confederation — and replacing it, five years after victory, with a president whose powers are as absolute as a European monarch of the era, and yet who embodies “the republic” in a God-like cult.

Impeachment was designed as the brake on that everyday exceptionality. Every indication shows that the original drafters thought that it would be more frequently used.

It’s little known that impeachment is built into the entire constitution: Supreme Court (and other) judges can be impeached, but rarely are.

By letting impeachment wither — and with no Westminster system capacity to legislatively sack — the democratic republic of the US has condemned itself to being a term-limited elected dictatorship, with some restraints on power.

The system was part-tested with Nixon and Watergate; Nixon’s resignation spared it the full challenge. That challenge is here now, and the country’s failing.

The consequences of that are momentous, and a direct consequence of the collapse of what remained of political-moral principle on the right.

The sleazy attempt to get dirt on Biden is just politics, but it involved the auctioning-off of foreign policy, with no regard for the real interests of the republic. If that isn’t abuse of power, what is?

The willingness of Republicans to do this is a measure of their abandonment of the politics of hegemony, for that of pseudo-insurgency, and, eventually, of coup and junta.

The attempt to control the whole terms of politics through an application of social conservatism and free-market liberalism (the right from 1979 to about 2014) — that’s gone.

Power and the maintenance of it is no longer being sought through the avenue of legitimacy, but simply through the exercise of it in an unintegrated fashion.

Power thus exposes itself as such — as economic nationalism, as steal-their-oil, as withdraw and reoccupy, as kill the bad guys, praise the badassness of other bad guys, gleefully trash all institutions.

The intentional by-product of that is to force the centre-left into running the joint — as said joint becomes more unequal, blighted and dysfunctional by the day.

Quite aside from internal party pressures, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had no “real” choice but to proceed with impeachment, given that the US Constitution is a residually progressive document.

To have made a politically strategic decision to let the Ukraine stuff pass, would have been to give precedent to unchecked presidential power.

The US, which has spent a century handing over Latin American government power to gangsters, would have effectively staged a coup against itself. What the politics of it will be, is to be seen.

But it will be — if conviction doesn’t occur — the politics of a failure of the republic, and play out from there. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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