Trump's acquittal leaves an indelible stain; Europe should take heed

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Dharmendra Kanani
Dharmendra Kanani

Chief Operating Officer and Chief Spokesperson of Friends of Europe

The Trump impeachment process was fundamentally and ultimately about America’s identity.

It wasn’t about a Democrat or Republican win. It wasn’t even about politics in some respects, other than to question what is acceptable behaviour for politicians in our modern, 21st-century world.

The central question of the impeachment process was whether one of the world’s admired liberal democracies was prepared to leave the door open for another Trump in the future.

It was America’s moment on the world stage – about what it stands for, what it wants to be and how it is perceived across the globe.

The Senate count pulled the curtain back.

January 6th was a non-partisan moment of fear

In Trump, America witnessed a nuclear attack on democracy. Despite the damning evidence submitted, the conclusions reached and the commentary of some brave members of Trump’s party, America’s Senate Republicans signalled loud and clear that in the end, this was okay.

January 6th was a non-partisan moment of fear. The quiet desperation, as the news of what was happening filtered into the Chamber, reflected in the testimonies of panicked calls to loved ones was human – not Democrat, not Republican.

That this terrifying, history-shaping experience – which shook all within the Capitol to the core – triggered partisan politics, rather than introspection, is unfathomable. That those who experienced it and those who watched the never-before-seen footage shared during the process got back to work defending Trump’s republicanism is damning.

The message and underpinning philosophy of the impeachment trial was that America shall never again accept, stand by and enable a president to behave in a way that undermines democracy fundamentally and abuses the office of the president.

It should have been a moment for Democrats to work across the political spectrum, while narrating a story outlining how the events on January 6th represented far more than the political divide in America. It was about how society in America functions, responds and behaves.

They chose party over country

This was lacking from the debate, and Democrats missed this opportunity by failing to call on witnesses that would have palpably drawn out this narrative.

It is a political crime that Trump walked out of office without a unified position that what he did was simply wrong. Throughout this debacle and in American politics over the past four years, much was made of the Constitution. But what he did was get away with playing footloose and fancy free with it.

The Republicans that supported him throughout his tenure and in the final Senate count knew that. However, they chose to gamble on it and focus on leveraging the over 70 million voters to barrel towards the midterm elections in two years. They chose party over country – and missed the point of this historic occasion and the indelible stain it will leave on their country.

Is this what America wants to be known for? Is this what the forefathers had intended?

At the heart of this issue is how over 70 million Americans connected with an ideology that is divisive, ‘me first’ and prepared to stretch the boundaries of acceptability because of their feelings of being left behind, irrelevant and excluded.

His brand fired the imaginations and legitimised the excesses of demagogues in Europe

The issue America will need to address is how to bring this community back into the fold, instead of focusing on tallying up the majority of votes in the next election.

These past four years, culminating in the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol, have revealed a crisis of America’s Constitution. President Biden’s statement at the conclusion of the trial summed it up: “This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant”. His words are a striking difference from Boris Johnson’s reference to it being a kerfuffle – echoing his watered down brand of Trumpism.

Whilst Europe might look on with dismay at these events and with schadenfreude at Trump’s demise, its political classes should learn from this lesson and not forget that his brand fired the imaginations and legitimised the excesses of demagogues in Europe and across the globe.

In Europe’s own backyard, the political rhetoric of Hungary and Poland are just two examples, and the fast moving ‘right’ show in some member states suggests more trouble is to follow as countries struggle with the economic fallout of the health crises.

Much of Trump’s tenure felt like chapters out of Marvel movies – and like some of their nail-biting endings, we have been left with an eerie shout out from Trump: “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun”. You can almost hear the maniacal laughter. Take heed.

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