When the gavel was rapped at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, it signalled a profound moment in American history ~ the start of the first public hearing into the impeachment of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America.
Equally does it testify to the resilience of the world’s oldest democracy… despite Trump in the saddle, one is inclined to add.
The process has been initiated by the House of Representatives with a flurry of pomp, drama and tension. That constitutional process per se has brought the President under a cloud and he may well be going through the wrapup motions of his term. There are few actions as consequential as the impeachment of a President.
True, those who framed the Constitution never envisaged that impeachment could be effected for mere differences over policy; markedly, they made impeachment a constitutional process that Congress must utilize when necessary. And so it has been in recent times ~ against Presidents Clinton, Richard Nixon and now Trump. For Democrats, the hearing was their first opportunity to make their case to the American people that Trump had used the power of the presidency to exploit a foreign government (Ukraine) for help against domestic political rivals, pre-eminently Joe Biden, Vice-President in the Obama era and now the Democrat candidate for presidency in Election 2020.
In course of the hearing, the House of Representatives will have to consider the mounting evidence of wrongdoing by the President.
But Trump’s fate will not be decided inside Room 1100 of the House Longworth building. It will rather depend on whether the Democrats can overcome the deep political polarization that has divided the country and defined Trump’s presidency.
This is their chance to break through the partisan echo chambers and capture the nation’s attention, as happened during the impeachment hearings of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon.
As on Wednesday, 48 per cent of Americans say they support impeachment in one form or another, while 44.4 per cent let it be known that they do not support it. The United States is, therefore, almost evenly divided. Open hearings can sway public sentiment: support for the impeachment of Richard Nixon soared quickly after the process was televised and many Americans learned about the case in detail for the first time.
“This is a very serious event in our country,” the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told her caucus, a presentation that almost sounded like a General steeling the troops for battle. “We wish it could have been avoided. None of us came here to impeach a President.” The Democrats were present precisely for that. The White House has no plans to take part in the impeachment hearings, which President Trump said he was “too busy” to watch.
Wednesday was only the opening act. In the coming days, more witnesses will come forward to testify in public proceedings that carry the risk of unraveling a presidency which has been quite the most controversial in US history.