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Impeach Trump! What are the benefits and costs?

By Rob Cover - posted Tuesday, 12 January 2021


Obviously, there are good grounds for doing everything possible to curtail Donald Trump's reach and influence and, after the disastrous past four years and the catastrophic deaths caused by his inaction on COVID-19 (among many examples) preventing him, his family and his ilk from ever returning to office. Or, indeed, using their wealth and power from outside politics to drive the kind of unthinking frenzies that mark this new, dangerous and exclusionary populism.

Impeachment is not a magic bullet to make Trump and Trumpism go away, although any work to reduce the reach or credibility of his claims is valuable. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has (finally) recognised the danger a Trump cult-like populism creates for democracy and stability in the United States, banning him indefinitely from posting on Facebook and Instagram.

Importantly, there is discussion that formalising public outrage at Trump's role in the Capitol Hill violence would encourage right-wing populists and those buying into conspiracy theories to rethink their support for Trump. Shaming a single representative publicly can, indeed, have the desired effect of making affiliation, support and thoughts of repetition feel shameful among others-while undesirable, shame is a powerful tool for cementing progressive social norms as we have seen around racial inclusivity over the past few decades.

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In this sense, impeachment is desirable. Using the 25th Amendment provisions to remove Trump demonstrates only that a small number of appointees no longer wish to work with him. Successful impeachment by the representatives of the people formalises and institutionalises the public condemnation and shaming of Trump that presently circulates through media and social networks.

3. Republican disinvestment

Regardless of what we may think of the Republican party, US political stability has been partly credited to their version of a two-party system, and the extensive freedom to debate and cross-the-floor in US legislative chambers.

There have been numerous calls since the beginning of Trump's administration for Republicans to distance themselves from Trump, primarily for fear that the party will be re-shaped in his image, much as it was earlier re-shaped by the policies and style of Ronald Reagan's neoliberalism in the 1980s, and then the Tea Party in the 2010s (both of which lead to setting the scene for Trumpist extremism and the culture of political anger). Mitt Romney and, before his death, John McCain were perhaps the two most outspoken senators and former presidential candidates to reject Trump's style and policies and bemoan the potential impact on their party.

An impeachment joined by large numbers of Republicans is one-among many-opportunities to begin the process of distancing the party from Trump, albeit at risk of dividing their own membership between old-school Republicans and cultish Trump populists. It may be unnecessary-Trump's own criticism of the Republicans for what he perceived as their failure to support his electoral fraud claims. Nevertheless, an impeachment that is joined by Republicans sends a clear message of a desire to restore a particular standard and decorum in political debate.

In three areas, an impeachment-rather than a removal using the 25th Amendment-will play an important role in shaping the next decade of politics in the United States and those countries which model themselves on North American culture. It may, indeed, be more important to take advantage of the opportunity to impeach now than to leave this necessary work to the Biden administration or to use legal measures after the inauguration which will keep Trump in the spotlight for much longer than necessary.

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On the other hand, it is important to ask if there is a downside to removing Trump from office (other than the bureaucratic labour involved, the likely dominance of news cycles for the period, and what might appear to some as a silliness in removing from the White House a man whose days are numbered).

1. Cement his cultist base

Humiliating Trump may be counter-productive in that it may re-figure Trump as a martyr, thereby further enflaming his adherents and sustaining a wavering populist base. Defeating Trump as a person may create a symbol available to be utilised by the next Trump (Donald Jr? Ivanka?) and a further embedding of one of the central tenets many Trump cultists believe: that he is a warrior against the dark forces of a hidden Deep State who discredit truth and ruin the good. While such conspiracy theories are, of course, nonsense, the idea of an establishment culture that ruins Trump exacerbates some of the more way out ideas, and sets up the next populist to use Trump's downfall as an example.

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About the Author

Rob Cover is Professor of Digital Communication at RMIT University, Melbourne where he researches contemporary media cultures. The author of six books, his most recent are Flirting in the era of #MeToo: Negotiating Intimacy (with Alison Bartlett and Kyra Clarke) and Population, Mobility and Belonging.

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