Trump on the rack as trial goes live on TV

The biter bit: TV propelled Trump to celebrity and power. Will it now be his undoing? © Reuters

Is it the beginning of the end for Trumpism? Yesterday, millions tuned in to watch day one of the show trial of the century, the public impeachment of the world’s most powerful man.

At precisely 15:00 Coordinated Universal Time yesterday, in the spacious, columned, television-friendly chambers of the Ways and Means Committee, the grandest hearing room in the US House of Representatives, where the national laws of the USA are made, there began a televised trial that will spend months picking apart Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump himself will not be appearing, but the entire world will be able to watch a series of career diplomats lay out evidence of the president’s alleged attempts to coax Ukraine’s president into opening an investigation against political rival, the presidential candidate Joe Biden — in other words, wrongly using his position for political gain.

For example, yesterday, a top US diplomat told the impeachment hearings that Trump directly asked about a Ukrainian investigation into his Democratic rival. This was a bombshell. It had never been said before.

Trump told reporters that he did not recall making such comments. There will be days and days of this sort of claim and counterclaim for the rest of this year and into next — relentlessly exposing Trump’s swashbuckling, bullying and chaotic private world to an increasingly weary American public.

US political experts are saying that “Trumpism” — the brand of angry, emotional Right-wing populism used by Trump to win the presidential election — is really what is on trial, more than Trump himself.

By this, they mean that although Trump is unlikely to be forced out of the presidency by this impeachment because he still commands a majority in the US Senate, it could be the beginning of the end for the movement that he leads.

It could be the moment that historians identify as the turning point when Trumpism started to fizzle out and die.

Why?

Until this moment in his presidency, a strong US economy and an era of sustained peace — without any of the major terrorist incidents or wars that have scarred recent American history — have meant that Trump’s support has remained solid. His opponents have also had strong public support, but not enough seriously to threaten his position.

According to US polls, in the period between the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the storm of Ukraine news, support for impeaching Trump ranged between 35 and 40 percent, with opposition consistently above 50 percent.

That has changed since the Ukraine story became public knowledge, with support for impeaching Trump now hovering around 50 percent and opposition a bit below 45 percent.

So, for the first time, his support is beginning to crumble. And the relentless scrutiny of a daily hearing on every major TV channel in the country is only likely to speed the process up.

But is it really the beginning of the end?

Turning point?

Yes it is, say some. This whole caper has blown up in Trump’s face, unified a formerly divided Democratic Party into launching a formal impeachment inquiry, divided Republicans, and cost him in the polls. He is now much more likely to lose next year’s presidential election and find that his legacy is rapidly consigned to history.

Don’t be so sure, say others. To the extent that Trump’s goal was to hurt Joe Biden’s presidential prospects, his strategy is arguably working. By levelling false allegations against the former vice president, he’s successfully drawn more attention to some of the quiet sleaziness of politics as usual. And at the fourth Democratic primary debate, Biden struggled to offer a convincing answer to questions.

You Decide

  1. Will Donald Trump be remembered as a one-off, or is his style the new norm?
  2. Is the US presidency still the most powerful job in the world?

Activities

  1. Design a “Wanted” poster for Donald Trump.
  2. Using the Expert Links, research “impeachment”. Summarise what it means and how it works on one side of paper.

Some People Say...

“The genius of impeachment lay in the fact that it could punish the man without punishing the office.”

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007), US historian

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Predictions are hard, but it seems extraordinarily unlikely that Trump will be able to avoid impeachment at this point. Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives and everything their “impeachment inquiry” has turned up so far tends to confirm the charges that kicked the entire process off — Trump sought to use his powers of office to press Ukraine into doing political favours for him.
What do we not know?
What’s more in doubt is the vote count. Democrats would like to be able to say that they unearthed evidence so compelling that even some House Republicans defected and joined them in impeaching Trump. Republicans would prefer to see impeachment pass narrowly with many of the more vulnerable Democrats defecting to vote against impeachment. Legally speaking, the question of the vote count has no relevance in the House, but it helps set the stage for the next phase in the Senate.

Word Watch

Coordinated Universal Time
Named as such because it is the standard by which all time zones are based. Contrary to popular belief, UTC is a standard even though it is mistaken for a time zone, which it is not.
Joe Biden
Former US vice president and current Democratic front-runner to run against Trump in 2020.
Ukrainian investigation
An ongoing political scandal in the USA. It revolves around efforts by Donald Trump to coerce Ukraine and other foreign countries into providing damaging narratives about 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden, as well as information relating to Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Subjects

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