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Home » Trump will survive, but the worst is yet to come | columns
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Trump will survive, but the worst is yet to come | columns

There have been impeachment trials in the US before, but never in an environment as polarised as this one. Following the Mueller investigations, it looked like the current era of political tribalism would prevent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from bringing forward articles of impeachment against US President Donald Trump. Why imperil Democratic candidates in swing states for a process that would just die in the Republican-controlled Senate? The political math didn’t add up.

But the Ukraine revelations changed that calculus. The speed with which the Ukraine developments hit, and the severity of the charges—a sitting US president withholding taxpayer money from an ally unless they opened an investigation into his political opponent and their family—provided the political punch that the Mueller investigations never did. Suddenly, the Democrats were behind impeachment. Americans seem sufficiently disturbed by the disclosures that an average of polls showed that 51% supported impeachment investigations the week after they were launched. A select number of Republicans have even gone on record to criticise the president, a rarity for our political times. Despite all that, it remains extremely likely that Trump will be acquitted in the Senate; two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict a US president and kick him out of office, meaning 20 Republicans would need to sacrifice their own political careers to oust Trump, who remains popular among the Republican base.

Nevertheless, even a failed impeachment bid will have impact on American politics going forward. The first and most obvious effect is on the president himself, who has already begun displaying erratic behaviour, both on Twitter and in real life. The surreal press conference with the Finnish president was not an aberration, but a sign of things to come. More disturbing was Trump’s call for China to start investigating his political opponents as well.

Then there are the changes to US personnel. Special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker has already resigned, but even more critical Trump administration figures — like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and/or Attorney General William Barr — may be forced to depart as more information about the Ukraine scandal surfaces, weakening Trump’s ability to execute on what’s left of his political agenda. On the domestic front, the US is looking at a year-plus of legislative paralysis. That makes it more likely Trump will look to the international arena for political wins ahead of 2020 elections.

Yet the biggest impact of impeachment proceedings will be to push the US closer to a constitutional crisis with the 2020 election at its heart. This impeachment will call into question the legitimacy of the American political process itself, and whether US elections have been compromised by foreign actors, potentially at the urging of US officials. Regardless of whether Trump is acquitted or convicted, roughly half the US population will feel wronged by the proceedings, and will entrench themselves further into their political base. The end result will be an American public much more likely to view the 2020 results as illegitimate, should their preferred candidate lose. The worst
is yet to come.

Ian Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and GZERO Media and author of Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism

The views expressed are personal

First Published:
Oct 12, 2019 21:14 IST

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