RISING CRIES FOR IMPEACHMENT: The Punch & Judy Show in Washington

These days we hear a good deal about something called impeachment, often coupled with references to Richard Nixon, though Nixon was not impeached, he resigned. Different countries go about things in different ways. In France, for instance, the president has immunity to any kind of criminal proceedings. The method of impeachment originated in England in the middle ages but has fallen into disuse. It has gone because in the UK it is much simpler just to pass a motion of no confidence which almost invariably causes the minister in question to resign. Impeachment is the start of a process (more or less complicated in the countries that use it) to remove somebody from office and/or punish them for wrong doing. The "and/or" here reveals a difficulty in the whole matter. In principle impeachment is supposed to be for dealing with powerful people who have committed serious crimes. It is tempting, however, to some groups in some circumstances, to see it as one way of deselecting a government member that they simply don't like. Much of the controversy in the USA at the moment hinges upon whether the president is (a) bad, (b) careless and inexperienced, or (c) simply possessed of a style alien to the established political culture in Washington. Option (c) seems pretty indisputable. Option (b) is arguable. Option (a) seems rather far fetched.

The whole storm around President Trump has been greatly magnified by the American assumption that Russia is "the enemy". Consequently, having anything to do with Russia tends to be seen as treachery. However, it is difficult to see how we can ever have peace in the world unless some reconciliation between America and Russia takes place. At the same time, Russia has suffered a good deal at the hands of the USA so it is not surprising that the Russians can hardly contain their amusement at the embarrassment that the USA is currently causing itself, hence Vladimir Putin's recent speech ironically saying that he might be forced to reprimand Lavrov for being “bad” and not sharing “these secrets neither with me nor with the Russian secret services, which is very inappropriate on his part.” This, of course, was pure sarcasm, implying that there were no such secrets and that the Americans were getting hot under the collar over a storm in a teacup. The Americans, however, are not in a humourous mood.

Perhaps the whole thing will blow over. Perhaps Trump will learn enough about political protocol to avoid stirring up quite so much controversy. On the other hand, one has the impression that by no means all of his controversial acts are accidental. He simply does not share the values of those around him and believes that right is on his side. He sees himself as the voice of a different kind of people from those who run the media and those who walk the corridors of Washington. Whether he can survive there himself will continue to be an open question for some time yet. His critics are over the top, but he is too. The truth of the matter surely lies somewhere in between. His provocative style together with the tendency of the American political class to take itself too seriously creates a mixture that oscillates between the explosive and the ludicrous. No doubt the show will go on and on. It is certainly bringing out Putin's talent for dry humour.

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Replies to This Discussion

We have seen Trump behaving in a very peculiar way when cameras are around, it’s almost like he is performing, and then, some of his speeches start with him talking about ratings (well, some of the official phone calls with foreigner presidents and leaders included him mentioning how good his ratings were).

As you mention, it doesn’t seem that his controversial behavior is an accident, it looks more like he is in a reality show, he behaves like he is still in his TV show, and I’m not sure if he knows that being a president and being a reality show star are two different things. Seems to me he can’t tell the difference and in the meanwhile, he is causing a lot of damage… But at the same time, he has united people and nations. It looks like he has also strengthened science support in other countries and some research is getting not just stronger but also more serious. There is always some good, even during bad times.

Yes, political developments are often a series of actions and reactions. This leads to polarisation which can be a self-reinforcing process. Trump is now on his international trip and, if he does not amke any major mistakes, this may confirm some US alliances, but, in the process, drive some other countries into other camps. The position of the American government on climate change still remains unclear - it seems that Trump is not very interested in the issue except insofar as it impedes his industrial strategy. This, however, is probably also a reflection of the fact that those within his inner circle do not agree with each other. We shall see whether these disagreements on a wide range of issues within his team are now made better or worse by his engagement in overseas relations.

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