Democrats may have bitten off more than they can chew
Republicans unite to seek revenge as impeachment proceedings against President Trump gain steam
Remember King Pyrrhus? House Democrats in the United States might wish to brush up on their history and read about the progenitor of the term 'pyrrhic victory' as they preen with self-righteousness after recommending the impeachment of President Donald Trump this week. For the benefit of the forgetful, Pyrrhus (319BC-272), King of Epirus, near Macedonia, crossed into Italy with 25,000 men and 20 elephants, and defeated the Romans at Heraclea. He bested the mighty Romans again at Ausculum only to lose heavily four years later in Beneventum. Plutarch in
The Life of Pyrrhus describes the terrible human price at which Pyrrhus won his battles and how the king received his comeuppance: "As from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war." Like King Pyrrhus, the Democrats may find the impeachment giving Trump supporters new force in the coming election war of 2020. If Nancy Pelosi's Democrats need a more contemporary parallel, the ruinous defeat of Jeremy Corbyn and the 'Remainers' in the 2019 election after they won Brexit battles serves well.
In truth, the impeachment of President Trump has been foreshadowed since his surprising election victory in 2016. Even before the president had put the final punctuation on his oath of office, there was talk of impeaching him. All that remained was the pretext. Trump's opponents could scarcely conceal their gleeful predictions that he would self-implode within months and that impeachment would be a cakewalk. When the Russia collusion story broke within the early months of the Trump presidency, it appeared that they were following in the footsteps of Nostradamus. However, despite their prayers and the unstinting negative media coverage of Trump, Russian collusion, Stormy Daniels, Bob Mueller, and Michael Cohen all flattered only to deceive. Trump was like Teflon - nothing stuck and the president's bellicosity only increased.
Then came the Ukraine whistleblower peddling what was promised to be the killer blow. Again, much ado about nothing. Now after weeks of covert and televised testimony, leaks, and two Congressional committee hearings, Democrats have not been able to establish that the president committed any crime, let alone the constitutional requirement of 'high crimes and misdemeanours'. Their original claims were rooted in legal terms - quid pro quo, and bribery: arguing that the president had orchestrated a criminal scheme for his personal benefit in breach of the law. Unfortunately, the transcript of Trump's call with President Zelensky of Ukraine doesn't evidence any crime to the average American. Instead, all they hear is Trump using loose language in asking for a 'favour' seeking an investigation in a circumstance where there was prior allegation of corruption. Notably, he did not ask for Joe Biden's son to be implicated in corruption or to have him fixed. And despite the breathless self-righteousness and virtue-signalling in Congress and on television, Americans remained largely unmoved in their opinions with less than half supporting impeachment. This is telling - if one in two people is unconvinced, the shrill advocates of impeachment ought to realise that the case for impeachment is weak.
So, why this impeachment hysteria? To be clear, Trump's impeachment is really not about Ukraine or the constitution. It is just partisan payback. The extreme polarisation of the country has been steadily building for decades and there are two Americas at war with each other. One made up of the elites who smugly demand respect because of their Yale degrees and such, and the rest comprised of 'deplorables' who don't possess or care much for such pedigree. Underpinning all this is a complex cocktail of race, gender, and identity politics. There are two competing visions for the country and neither side likes the other.
An early indication of this mutual loathing was the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 - unfairly according to his supporters. Then came the deeply divisive election victory of George W. Bush in 2000 - which opponents believe was stolen from Al Gore. Just as the wounds were healing in a momentary lull caused by 9/11 because Americans had to unite against an external threat, Bush's Iraq misadventure under the false pretext of WMD upended the shallow unity. These scars were agitated during his successor's term, and many conservatives never accepted Obama's presidency as legitimate. They retaliated by stymieing Obama at every turn in the House and Senate, and his sole legacy of Obamacare remains under attack. If Trump's election shot everything Obama's election represented, the impeachment of Trump is the recoil. Notably, Bush and Obama were also subjected to impeachment demands - for Iraq and Benghazi respectively.
America's founding fathers anticipated this very extreme polarisation and the danger presented. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 65 in 1788, impeachment "will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties, more or less friendly, or inimical, to the accused. In many cases, it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, in?uence, and interest on one side, or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger, that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt." It is a tribute to the sagacity of previous Congressmen that impeachment was so rarely used. That wisdom has been sacrificed in today's climate of hate. In taking this path, Democrats may be remembered for being on the wrong side of history. It is difficult to imagine how their victory will be anything but pyrrhic. Like the Romans against Pyrrhus, Trump is a 'fountain continually flowing' and his supporters will wreak vengeance. Good luck to the next Democrat president.
Sandeep Gopalan is the Vice Chancellor of Piedmont International University, North Carolina, US