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Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

America’s redemption after its Day of Infamy

Donald Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives. But for the US to reclaim its global authority as a democracy that adheres to principles, it must take far sterner action

Few of us expected to see a day when US democracy would face an existential crisis of its own. Not in the sense of its existence preceding its purpose, but for its violation of the age-old maxim that peace must precede prosperity. Yet, we saw such a day, and it has acquired a name: Day of Infamy. On 6 January 2021, a mob roused by President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol—its legislative complex where Joe Biden’s recent poll win was being ratified—in an apoplectic fit of rage against what they saw as a ‘stolen election’ that left about half a dozen people dead, the country shaken and the world stunned. “The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect the true America," said President-elect Biden, “This is not who we are." If this casting of that mob as an extremist fringe was meant to assure us that America’s core values were intact, that it had not lost its claim to being a ‘light on the hill’ for freedom, then the country needed to prove as much. A week later, its Democrat-led House of Representatives impeached Trump by 232 votes to 197 for “incitement of insurrection". But this is just a knuckle rap. As of now, he is still in office and could technically regain the White House four years hence. The US must do more to redeem itself—for the sake of democracy around the globe.

Much has been made of the fact that 10 of Trump’s fellow Republicans voted to impeach him. His ejection from office, however, requires a two-thirds vote in favour of his conviction in an evenly-split Senate, and whether enough of his party senators will approve is unclear. They had helped him retain power after his 2019 impeachment over a telephonic attempt to bribe Ukraine’s leader with US aid into smearing Biden (and his son). This time, a vote in this 100-member chamber may not even take place before Biden assumes charge on 20 January. So, why bother? For one, it would be more than just symbolic. By the Democrat political calculus, for example, a Senate trial would force Republican leaders to openly declare their positions on the case; given both the clarity and gravity of the charge against Trump, this would probably place them in a quandary, perhaps even push the rival party towards a split. For another, from a distant non-partisan perspective, this is an opportunity for US politicians of all stripes to put realpolitik aside and reclaim the high ground that underlies America’s authority in the free world, as it were. Without Trump being served a sharp institutional rebuke and held to account for his actions by the US, its persuasive power beyond its borders would surely weaken. China would be pleased.

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An American avowal against letting anything like its Day of Infamy happen again would go a long way towards the redemption of America’s reputation. For this, the country ought to dust off and invoke its 14th constitutional amendment, which dates back to its Civil War era and bars a leader who flouts an oath of office by staging an ‘insurrection or rebellion’ from holding a federal post again. As this provision is vague, it might not achieve the objective of shielding the US from a populist insurgency fanned by Trumpism, an ideology that is unlikely to vanish anytime soon. But those in two minds over the issue should be advised to read Thomas Paine’s 1776 treatise Common Sense, an ode to republican ideals. If it helps shift the world at large towards a global order based on worthy principles rather than petty prejudices, we would all be relieved.

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