From Impeachment to a Time for Healing

L. Ian MacDonald

January 13, 2021

The New York Times “standing head” on Trump’s impeachment, in Dec. 2019 (L) and today.

IMPEACHED. That’s the identical headline of the New York Times on the two impeachments of Donald Trump, on becoming the first American president ever to be impeached twice. With his impeachment by the US House of Representatives on Wednesday, Trump became what’s known in the news business as a “standing head.”

And a bold faced, all-caps banner headline at that, on the front of the New York Times, America’s daily journal of record.

Such a standing head has never been published before in the history of the United States. But then, neither has a sitting American president ever been impeached twice. He has been charged with a single constitutional offence, inciting an insurrection, a “high crime and misdemeanor.” Never mind that there isn’t time for a trial in the Senate before he leaves office in a week, or that he’s unlikely to be convicted there afterwards with enough Republicans joining the Democrats to assure that. The Democrats just won control of the Senate with a 50-50 split of seats and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris looming as the tie breaker. But it would take a super majority of 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster, and sixty-seven votes, two thirds plus one, to convict. And that’s not likely.

And yet, the Republican leadership was sending signals going into the impeachment vote that could foretell another outcome.

In the House, the number three Republican leader, Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president and defence secretary Dick Cheney, declared that Trump’s behaviour disgraced his office and that she would be voting to impeach. Another dozen or so GOP Representatives were expected to follow her lead. The last time Trump was impeached, on two counts rather than just one in December 2019, the Republicans stood unanimously with him, with the single exception of Senator Mitt Romney.

On the Senate side, outgoing majority leader Mitch McConnell was apparently telling his members they would not be whipped along party lines as in 2019, and were free to vote their consciences. “McConnell is Said to Welcome Effort to Impeach”, the Times headlined on its Wednesday front page. That could break the super majority right there, if enough of his colleagues agreed with him that it was the best way to rid the party of the party of Trumpism and re-build along mainstream conservative lines. There was already something in the wind from McConnell last week when his wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, resigned in disgust from the cabinet on the morrow of the mob scene unleashed by Trump at the US Capitol. Interestingly, McConnell hasn’t said no to Joe Biden’s idea to “go half a day in dealing with impeachment” in the Senate and “half a day to getting my people nominated and confirmed by the Senate.”

And if convicted by the Senate, Trump could be barred from ever holding or seeking office again. He might not even be able to grant himself a pardon for his crimes. Still, it’s enough that he’s a “standing head”, which assures his historical damnation as a fool as well as a knave, and a craven coward who told his followers he would march with them to the Hill last week, but instead returned to the White House to enjoy the television spectacle of the symbol of democracy disintegrating like a banana republic.

When he finally came out of hiding in the West Wing on Wednesday, he didn’t even note that a record number of 4,400 Americans had died of COVID-19 that day, with the pandemic death toll now exceeding U.S. casualties in the Second World War. What a creep.

And this at the end of a week in which Trump was kicked off Twitter and Facebook, and deprived of a media podium for his lies. For good measure, the Professional Golf Association cancelled the prestigious PGA championship, one of the four major golf events in the world, that had been scheduled for his private club in New Jersey. This alone will cost Trump millions of dollars in uncovered personal losses. It also reminded Americans that during his four years in office, he had played golf at his own courses more than 330 times by CNN’s estimate, or one day in four of his time in office, all at public travel expense in the millions, and during the entire time of the pandemic in which 375,000 Americans have now died while he refused to even wear a mask.

There’s only another week to endure Trump’s presence, and be grateful for his absence from the inauguration. Among other good things, the world will be spared Trump boasting that Biden’s crowd was nothing beside his own in 2017, which as he falsely put it at the time was much bigger than Barack Obama’s in 2009.

The bi-partisan presence will be provided by the outgoing vice president, Mike Pence, who will bring a sense of dignity conspicuously missing in Trump, who wanted him to betray his own oath of office by declaring Biden’s election invalid, and then lacked the simple decency to call him up last week when he and his family were protectively sequestered with armed intruders lurking outside the Senate chamber where he was presiding.

In another era, another vice president, Al Gore, also presided over the certification of the president by the electoral college. Though he had won the 2000 popular vote in Florida, Gore lost his appeal to the Supreme Court by a single vote, and, declared George W. Bush the winner over himself.

And a presidential inauguration should be a unifying occasion. As Jimmy Carter put it elegantly about Gerald Ford and the burden of the Watergate scandal that doomed his 1976 campaign. “For myself and for our nation,” Carter declared, “I would like to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.” Carter paused and stepped over to shake Ford’s hand, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

That’s what America needs now. It is a time for healing in their land.

L. Ian MacDonald, Editor and Publisher of Policy Magazine, served as head of the public affairs division of the Canadian Embassy in Washington in the early 1990s.