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The Trial of Trump: Illuminating the Illusions of Impeachment

By Matthew Choi Taitano, Editor in Chief

On Wednesday, December 18, 2019, President Donald Trump became the third American president in history to be impeached. He was impeached on two articles: (1) abusing his power by leveraging the federal government and taxpayer money for his personal and political gain and (2) obstructing the congressional inquiry into his actions on Ukraine. Trump’s impeachment revealed brooding tensions between the Republican and Democratic parties. According to a Washington Post article by Amber Phillips, “Republicans who spoke almost universally accused Democrats of looking for an excuse to impeach Trump, while Democrats argued that Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine necessitated impeachment.” The House voted 230-197 for Article 1: Abuse of Power and 229-198 for Article 2: Obstruction of Congress. Some people unfamiliar with politics and government might think that these votes indicate the end of Trump’s career as president. However, there is much more to the process of impeachment and the firing of the president.

So, what actually is impeachment? Let’s look at this helpful tweet for clarification:

No, but actually. According to a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, impeachment is: “The accusation and prosecution of a person for treason or other high crime or misdemeanor before a competent tribunal; in U.S., a similar process in which accusers are the House of Representatives and the court in the Senate.” From this definition, we can see there is no indication of the firing of the president through the process of impeachment. This is simply a first step towards the termination of a president’s term. Noting this distinction between impeachment and termination is essential to understanding the nuances currently ongoing in this presidential term, as well as the other terms of the two presidents (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton) who were impeached and Richard Nixon who was almost impeached but ended up resigning.

Now, what comes after impeachment? According to Phillips’ article, “A president who has been impeached by the House can still serve as president. It’s up to the Senate to hold a trial to decide whether to remove him from office. The two other presidents impeached by the House, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, were acquitted by the Senate. The Constitution only says that the Senate has to hold a trial, with the senators sitting as jurors, House lawmakers serving as prosecutors known as managers, and the chief justice of the United States presiding over it.”

Because Clinton and Johnson were acquitted by the Senate of the past, there are many doubts that Trump will actually be removed from office. In addition, because the Senate is mostly comprised of Republicans, these doubts are further solidified. Phillips also notes an important flaw in the process of removing the president: “[T]he Constitution doesn’t lay out exactly how to hold a trial.” Thus, albeit Trump’s impeachment is a historic event, his actual removal from office is something that might have to wait until the natural end of his term, rather than through the process of impeachment and termination. Although this might be disappointing to some, it is important to keep fighting for a just, equitable, and open-minded society whose intrinsic value is the safety and well-being of all individuals.

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