By the time you read this, US President Donald Trump would probably have escaped impeachment, and Thomas Paine, whose 1776 classic Common Sense had once stirred an upsurge in favour of democracy and rule of law to overthrow an arbitrary ruler, might still be turning in his grave. The US Senate had a Republican majority, and the Democrat hope of ousting Trump from the White House had relied on defections by those who foresaw a threat to their public careers in backing him. It didn’t work, despite the apparent credibility of the main charge that he abused his office for his own political ends. Confident of acquittal, he hardly even bothered to defend himself properly, as if it’s usual practice to use US foreign aid as a tool to bully another country’s leader into aiding a smear campaign against a rival.

Does Trump’s triumph raise his prospects of re-election? It could. He emerges from his trial emboldened, ready to flay the Democrats for their alleged effort to overturn democracy, as he has been portraying it. The big loser here, though, is exactly that—democracy. The “land of the free" won’t stay so for long if it does not hold its elected leaders to account.

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