IT was clear from the outset that Senate will save Trump from impeachment charges made by Democrat majority Congress to hold country’s President accountable to law like any other American citizen. As predicted Republican-led Senate failed to impeach the President favouring party allegiance over rule of law; it is for the commoners not the rulers. Now it is widely believed Trump is going to use the impeachment as political witch-hunt to win the second term and Republican Party approval ratings have already gone up from 43 per cent to 51 after his acquittal. The impeachment process has left many lessons. The role of Chief Justice of US Supreme Court has been damaged. It has failed both textualists (those who read the constitution in letter and spirit) and progressives (who apply their interpretation as per evolving trends).
During the Senate Impeachment Trial of the President he witnessed senators betray their (impartiality) oaths and voted for Trump as per their political allegiance and did not object to blocking of witnesses by an earlier vote in the Senate. The writers of the Constitution by requiring the Chief Justice to head the proceedings gave him powers to do justice in the President’s impeachment cases, but the Chief Justice shamelessly refused to dispense it. He interpreted neither the Constitution as traditionalist nor a progressive. By heading the proceeding, he visibly legitimized a controversial if not illegal decision. In the process, he knowingly and as Republican President pick undermined the role of judiciary and rule of law. History will show that like Senators he also violated his oath. However, like the President he too cannot be held accountable. Trump’s acquittal has weakened US democracy and public’s faith in rule of law. The extended fallout of this public show is that since judges are nominated by the President so it was unrealistic to expect Chief Justice to give decision against the President. The role of Judiciary in Senate has raised serious doubts about US judiciary because Trump has so far appointed 185 judges to the US lower courts and two Supreme Court judges. It shows importance of independence of judiciary, judiciary as equal in trichotomy of power (Executive, Judiciary and Establishment), and the independence of branches in parliamentary form of government as compared to presidential form.
Similarly, Trump changed the Attorney General to control the US justice department after the Muller report of foreign interference in US elections including funding. Earlier acting US AG Sally Yates was dismissed by the President for instructing the Justice Department not to make legal arguments defending bans on admission of refugees and travel ban from certain countries. Yates stated that order was neither defensible in court nor consistent with the Constitution. Ironically, large portions of the order were subsequently blocked by federal courts but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld a revised version. The office of AG is supposed to uphold rule of law, interest of the public and keep the power in check, but these posts have been made subservient to President instead of checking him as part of checks and balances. Trump has fired the two whistle blowers in his impeachment case which will further darken the democracy. No wonder Trump nominated judges have so far managed to disenfranchise one million (mostly black) voters in key states which critics call preparation for next presidential election. The weakening of state institutions is therefore allowing leaders in the US, India, Brazil, Hungry and even the UK to get away with anything. It is therefore important to protect independence of Judiciary, Establishment and media as part of healthy democracy, transparency and accountability. With weakening economies and growing unemployment, the number of populist leaders will grow.
Although Trump and Republicans are happy with the acquittal, it has come at a cost for the voters and the economy. In State of the Union Address, Trump made claims of strong economy and creation of millions of jobs have been rejected by the critics as lies because of accumulation of $1.9tn debt during his three years in office and in 2019 more than 8.5 million Americans are still forced to do more than one job to survive. The number has gone up from eight million in 2018. Other economic and social indicators show equally dismal picture, which Trump ignored in his Union Address. A 2017 report by UN expert shows that 41 million people live in extreme poverty in America. Auto loan debt held by Americans is $1.2tn at the start of 2020. Auto loans now make up nearly 10% of all household debt; the third largest consumer debt category behind mortgages ($2tn) and student loans ($1.5tn). Individual healthcare cost has increased by more than 750 per cent in America but Trump has failed to resolve the standoff on Obamacare so far. International verdict on Trump’s strong business is negative as US Corporations are drowning in debt. According to 2019 annual health check by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), America and UK are biggest danger to the global financial system. The watchdog said that the sale of collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) and collections of the corporate debt is reminiscent of sub-prime crisis in 2008. OECD has already warned that rising level of corporate debt is a risk to global economy as companies around the world need to repay or refinance $4tn over next three years.
Trump ran for office to help the poor and ‘drain cesspool’ of corruption capital. But, the big Corporations are all set to invest one trillion dollars in other countries despite appeal by members of Foreign Relations Committee. Trump did not start any big project on lines of 1933 New Deal to improve living standards of average American have fallen despite having $28tn in pension reserves. There is no hope of better jobs in near future as reports show that US investment companies have invested $500bn overseas for better returns right under Trump’s nose while he claims to bring back jobs and keep the economy strong. Thus, it is business as usual in Washington for now and it could well be for next five years. In that case, he will be ruthless and many other world leaders will follow him. Finally, it is hoped that our judiciary, military and civil establishment are learning from these failures to protect institutional independence as part of checks and balances in parliamentary form of democracy, transparency, and accountability.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.