Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 212, 14 January 2021

The US: Trump impeached by the House, as a disorderly transition looms large
D. Suba Chandran

In the news
On 13 January 2021, the US House impeached President Donald Trump for the second time. The vote was passed with a majority with 232-197; ten Republicans joined the Democrats in passing the vote. Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, was quoted stating: "We know that the president of the United States incited this insurrection, this armed rebellion, against our country...He must go. He is a clear and present danger to the nation that we all love." A section amongst the Republicans, who have criticized Trump, consider the House's latest move would not be the best way to go. Kevin McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, was quoted to have stated:  "A vote to impeach would further divide this nation, a vote to impeach will further fan the flames, the partisan division."

On 13 January, according to a New York Times report, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments have warned of instability. Quoting a bulletin, the report says, "The “boogaloo,” a movement that seeks to start a second civil war, and extremists aiming to trigger a race war 'may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States'."

On 12 January, the House formally asked Vice President Mike Pence to make use of the 25th Amendment that provides a provision to remove President Trump on the ground that he is "incapable of executing the duties of his office." However, the Vice President refused to follow that option; according to Pence, such a course would neither be in the US's best interest nor consistent with the American Constitution.

On 12 January, the Army Secretary finalised to strengthen Washington's security with National Guards, which would be armed to secure the Capitol Hill against the Trump supporters. This is being done to prevent the latter from disrupting Joe Biden while he takes over as the next American President on 20 January 2021. 

On 12 January, the YouTube, "in light of concerns about the ongoing potential for violence," suspended President Trump's social media account. In a statement, it also said that it had removed new content uploaded in Trump's channel. Earlier Twitter and Facebook had also suspended the accounts of Trump.

Issues in the background
First, the political fallout of the violence in Capitol Hill. The violence inside the Capitol Hill led by Trump supporters' has brought many Republicans to condemn the act and the entire Democrats – both in the House and in the Senate. One of the reasons for the Democrats to push the resolution despite being a minority in the Senate emanates from this recent development. Though the House led by the Democrats would have preferred the Vice President to remove Trump from office, using the 25th amendment, they got ready to initiate the impeachment process. Outside the Capitol Hill, there is larger support for the move. Many Americans consider the violence on 7 January led by Trump's supporters as sedition and an attack on the US democratic values and institutions. 

Second, setting an accountability process against Trump, even if the impeachment process does not get a necessary vote in the Senate trial. To impeach Trump, the resolution also needs two-thirds majority support in the Senate. The Democrats do not have that number; even if the Republicans favour the resolution, it can be done only on 19 January, when the Senate reconvenes. 19 January would be the last day for Trump as the President. So, what would the impeachment achieve? The House is aware of this fact but wants to hold Trump accountable, for inciting the mob to target the Congress.

Third, the emergence of right-wing groups in the US, including the "Proud Boys." Though this was obvious during the last one year vis-à-vis the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a pre-BLM phenomenon, highlighting the changes taking place within the American society. Racial relations and democracy within the US, cannot be taken for granted anymore. Whether Trump was the product of the above phenomenon or aggravated the existing fault lines would need a larger discussion. 

In perspective
First, the threat to democracy and internal harmony should be the clear and present danger for Joe Biden, as he takes over as the new President on 20 January. The fact that there are fears over violence on that day says so much about what should be Biden's immediate priority.

Second, American democracy and internal stability as a role model for the liberal societies elsewhere. The US has a duty to address both; democracies worldwide are under distress, with authoritarian rulers and protest movements. The US has to be a source of stability.

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