As outgoing US President Donald Trump enters the final week of his divisive and troubled presidency, Democratic Party Congressmen in the US House of Representatives are embarking on an “accountability week” to hold him and their Republican Party opponents accountable for fuelling extreme right-wing conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential elections.
The president’s inflammatory language is thought to have led to the unprecedented violent insurrection at the US Capitol last Wednesday.
House majority leader Steny Hoyer confirmed that the House would convene this week to debate articles of impeachment against Trump. These relate to his supposed role in inciting insurrection that led to the riot at the Capitol. Trump will be the first US president to have faced impeachment twice in office.
The move is a last resort for the Democrats as Vice-President Mike Pence has been reluctant to invoke the 25th amendment to the US Constitution and remove Trump from office.
President-elect Joe Biden, who previously said it was up to Congress to decide how to proceed with the charges against Trump, said on Monday that “Trump should not be in office. Period.”
Biden said it was his “hope and expectation” that the Senate would “bifurcate” its workday if the House moved forward with impeachment. The Senate would spend the morning after his inauguration confirming his nominees for government and advancing a coronavirus relief bill, while the afternoon would be used to carry out the impeachment of Trump.
Trump might also face criminal charges from different federal courts. Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine said he might bring charges against Trump and others for inciting the storming of the US Capitol.
“Clearly, the crowd was hyped up, juiced up, focused on the Capitol, and rather than calm them down or at least emphasise the peaceful nature of what protests need to be, they really did encourage these folks and riled them up,” Racine said of Republican lawmakers, Trump, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
The rapid events and chaos in America left the world shocked and in disbelief. European leaders are in contact with each other and their ambassadors in Washington as the inauguration day approaches.
“There is a lot of anxiety in Europe about what is happening in America. The fear is our ally, the other side of the Atlantic will surface from this unprecedented crisis weaker internally and internationally,” one British diplomat told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“A weaker America is good news for China and Russia and bad news for Europe in the face of a changing and increasingly difficult geopolitical environment,” he said.
Fears are also growing over President-elect Biden’s inauguration next week, with the FBI warning of “armed uprisings” and pro-Trump protests in 50 state capitals. It has “received information about an identified armed group intending to travel to Washington DC on 16 January,” it said.
The FBI said the group had warned that attempts to remove Trump from office would result in “a huge uprising”. The report comes amid intensifying concerns about violence around Biden’s inauguration.
Mayor of Washington Muriel Bowser said she had asked for public gathering permits in the city to be cancelled until 24 January.
The concern over possible violence in the days before and after the Biden inauguration has been reinforced by opinion polls that show Americans divided and polarised.
Some 57 per cent of Americans think Trump should leave office as soon as possible instead of serving out the remaining days of his term, according to an Ipsos/Reuters poll. A majority of Democrats (92 per cent) and Republicans (71 per cent) oppose the mob that broke into the Capitol building, according to the poll.
But the bipartisan sentiments stop there. Some 86 per cent of Democrats strongly disapprove of Trump’s actions on Wednesday, whereas only 20 per cent of Republicans hold the same belief. And while 88 per cent of Democrats want Trump to leave office as soon as possible, 77 per cent of Republicans want him to finish his term.
With Trump’s base still behind him, the future of the Republican Party after his presidency is at stake, with many asking how to rescue it from division. There are increasing calls in the party to cut links with Trump.
“It is time to expand the ranks of the adults in the Republican Party and retake it from those who continue to embrace anarchy, nativism, cronyism and this ugly form of populism. The image of a rioter walking through the Capitol carrying the Confederate battle flag has indelibly stained the national psyche,” said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.
“He’s either been golfing, or he’s been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful to him under the bus, starting with the vice-president. He doesn’t want to stay there. He only wants to stay there for the title. He only wants to stay there for his ego. He needs to get out. He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing,” she said.
She was the first Republican senator to call on Trump to resign. But Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators declined to endorse invoking the 25th Amendment to oust Trump because of fears of the voters who voted for Trump a few weeks ago.
This places the party in a major political and ethical dilemma, and there are major divisions over how to deal with it.
“US representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and a growing number of senators stepped up in defence of American values. They now must redefine the GOP as a party based on principles and ideals and move away from being driven by loyalty to one terribly flawed man,” wrote Charlie Dent, a former Pennsylvania congressman in the UK Financial Times.
“Social tolerance, constructive engagement on the international stage, rejecting cronyism, embracing free markets with reasonable and modern regulation are good places to start. Advancing centre-right policy solutions on issues outside the GOP’s comfort zone, such as climate change and immigration, will send a message of seriousness,” he said.
The suggested new platform for the Republican Party is attractive enough, provided the party can unshackle itself from Trump.
Even Biden has called for the Republicans to break free from Trump, saying it was necessary to have an “opposition that’s principled and strong… I think you’re going to see them going through this idea of what constitutes the Republican Party,” Biden said.
The diminishing of the Republican Party is alarming even for figures working close to Trump. Power has “slipped away” from the party amid the “disaster” of last week’s Capitol riot, according to Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer tipped to defend Trump if he is impeached for a second time.
Dershowitz told the BBC he believed that Trump’s address to the crowds in Washington last Wednesday was “constitutionally protected,” adding that “he had the right to do it, but that doesn’t make it right.”
“It would be nice to hope that 6 January will be an inflection point, a transformation causing a rethink of who we are and where we are going. But Covid-19 makes me wonder whether there are any truly transformative moments we experience and perceive in the same way that can produce real change,” warned Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the US Carnegie Endowment and a former State Department Middle East analyst.
The coming weeks will be momentous, and the actions of both parties will determine the course of events. The country is very divided, trying to cope with a president who has nudged his supporters to commit acts of violence and then refused to take responsibility for them, putting America on the edge of further political unrest.
America and the Republican Party has a problem on its hands in how to deal with Trump and his base after he leaves office. Because one thing is certain – Trump is not going to keep quiet.
All the indications are that he will try to find a media platform to prepare for a 2024 comeback.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.