STATE OF THE NATION: CLASH IN CONGRESS STRENGTHENS THE US’ BITTER DIVISIONS

Peter Donnelly, Editor

They were scenes which were reminiscent of violent challenges to state authority during the dying days of the crumbling Eastern European communist regimes in the late 1980’s.

American Democracy? The site where Presidents for centuries have been inaugurated to the Office of the President of the United States. On Wednesday 6th January, it was instead the site of a protest which resulted in a siege of the Capitol Building at the heart of American democracy in Washington D.C.

The storming of state buildings, the blatant vandalising and attacking of state property, overpowering and assault of police officers and entering the offices of political officials, were images which would have been an anathema to American democracy and it all it stood for.

Scenes on that scale of disorder, following a democratic, free and fair election were never mentioned in the same sentence as America, never mind associated with its political system. On this occasion, however, it was not in Central Africa, the Middle East or in Eastern Europe but at the United States’ Congress on Wednesday last – the epicentre of American democracy which has long prided itself on being the very embodiment of global democracy to which all nations should aspire. The violence in Washington D.C. left four people dead and a police officer the following day.

The events of that deadly mid-winter Washington day, have reverberated far beyond America’s shores and those of its allies, to countries which have long held grudges against America and its unique democratic makeup. These countries now revel in the hopelessly divided state and chaos of modern America; all the while sneering at, what they see, as democracy coming home to kick America where it hurts.

The fact that the leader of the greatest global democracy is being subject to impeachment proceedings for the second time in his presidential term only serves as another shocking excuse for those to rub their hands in glee at the state of America’s precariously fragile, and increasingly embarrassing, union. What recent events have demonstrated is that the muted unease for which many Republicans have had towards President Trump, and his unconventional and contentious conduct, has found expression in the near unanimous condemnation of Trump’a incitement of a mob which stormed Congress, as it convened to ratify the Presidential election result.

Much political commentary and satire has been devoted to the events of 6th January, which in the mind of the incoming President was nothing short of an insurrection aimed at overthrowing his election result and the two centuries old democratic process of peaceful administrative transition.

Donald Trump’s pledge before the Presidential election that he would not relinquish the reigns of his office without fuss, was something on which he kept his word. The Trump project was one which was not given a great deal of credence before he decided to run on the Republican ticket for US President in 2015.

Trump and his closest advisers were even surprised – perhaps shocked – that he had secured the Presidency on his platform of unapologetic conservatism. It almost seemed a surreal occurrence, but it was one which, for America’s adversaries, just kept on giving and giving…and giving.

Impeachment Round 2

The issues which currently occupy Congress are the issues surrounding the hastily constructed impeachment. The impeachment vote was confirmed with the strike of Nancy Pelosi’s hammer passed in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives (all 232 Democrats joining 10 Republicans to impeach while 197 voted against impeachment) one week since the attack and the official Republican reticence to see President Trump impeached. Congressional Republicans have given broad tacit approval for Congress to issue a bi-partisan censure which rebukes the President for his unconstitutional conduct; namely inciting a riot.

Notably high-profile Wyoming House Representative Liz Cheney said she will vote for an indictment of impeachment, while Republican Senate majority leader, and once a solid Trump ally, Mitch McConnell signalled that the current proceedings would provide an appropriate time to firmly sanction Donald Trump.

This could have a long-term, two-fold benefit for Republicans. Firstly, allowing clear blue water to be placed between Trump and the Republican Party and to ensure that such a publicly formal sanction would cast a dark shadow over Trump’s four-year administration. questions recent events have posed for the position of American democracy have been stark.

Although the support for Trump has diminished in Congress, Republicans have suggested that detractors of Donald Trump have had a fascination with pursuing a vendetta against him, starting when he was first inaugurated in January 2017. Furthermore, questions of due process have been raised as Donald Trump and his counsel have not been afforded the opportunity to rebuke the charges directed against him. Michael Johns, former speechwriter to President George H.W. Bush in the 1990’s, clearly voiced those concerns. The point that Democrats should prioritise healing the nation and blanking Donald Trump as a nightmare is not without credence.

In order for an impeachment trial to be successful in the Senate the Constitution stipulates that two-thirds of Senators must be in agreement of that course.

The impeachment proceedings which would expedite rapidly approaching approaching departure on 21st January, have further been labelled pointlessly futile and add fuel to the fire of hyper partisanship which has ravaged American society for much too long.

American Democracy

The President can perform a convention observed since the first administrative transfer of the state from George Washington to John Adams in 1796, to vacate the White House in readiness for a new administration. The task which awaits this new administration is on proportions never seen before in America.

Donald Trump’s presidency has been utterly transformative for the way political commentators and the media approach the end of a presidential term. Instead of discussing their achievements, or lack of them, in the domestic and foreign spheres, it has become a discussion about Trump alone and his ‘effect.’ When he became President in 2017, it was common knowledge that he shot from the hip and appeared prone to erratic frames of mind,And the function and position of the concept of democracy. His effect has been multi-faceted it has transcended the very concept of conventionality and worryingly American democracy itself.

Astonishing: Members of the National Guard sleeping in the Capitol building after the Pentagon drafted 15,000 guardsmen to secure the Capitol during Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. Rings of security fencing have decked Washington D.C’s state offices like never before. Is this what it takes to defend democracy in the States? Stephen Voss/Politico

Rummaging through retained newspaper cuttings, one which stood out was the Belfast Telegraph’s short segment on Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. The snippet saw the new incumbent with hand on the bible, upon which Abraham Lincoln took his oath 160 years ago, affirming the principles and rules of office. It was an image – prosaic to all intents and purposes – which even the most prescient of political philosophers could have imagined would change history.

In his declining years, in the 1900s, constitutional lawyer and scholar A.V. Dicey wrote to his lawyer friend James Bryce, who had written extensively on American democracy that “If anyone could properly explain both the virtues and the weaknesses of American democracy, he would render the world great service.”

A student observing the changing nature and influence of the Office of President, over the past century, will find it impossible to abridge the gulf between Trump and his predecessors – not only in terms of his policies but his unpresidential temperament, personality and approach to all things which previously possessed a semblance of conventionality.

Donald Trump is leaving but his influence is undeniable for his supporters and detractors alike. His Presidency has changed the nature of the office which once was regarded as the epitome of international diplomacy and leading democracy by example. The fundamentals of the Office remain but in 2021 Joe Biden inherits a peculiarly Trump institution.

Donald Trump is leaving the Presidency and for many Americans this represents the biggest relief of their lifetime, following his controversial and ignominious conduct of the past four years. For another, significant section of opinion, who endorsed the Trump ballot in the 2020 election, his influence has not waned and is unlikely to. These are the people Joe Biden must make every effort to convince that he is on their side.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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