In recent days most mainstream media outlets have focused heavily on hearings leading up to the House of Representatives vote to impeach United States President Donald Trump. And, unsurprisingly, the vote went ahead and decided on impeachment. But, what does this incredibly publicised event actually mean? And what happens next?
The impeachment is largely symbolic and does not stop Donald Trump from acting as President. Despite this, it’s still a significant day as only two previous US Presidents have been impeached, the first being Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the second being Bill Clinton in 1998.
Furthermore, an impeachment officially charges someone in public office of some sort of legal wrongdoing or misconduct and can be used against many different federal officials. Also, importantly, impeachment does not mean the person being impeached is guilty, merely that a majority (51%) of members in the House of Representatives approve of formal charges.
So, what’s the next step? Basically, now that the House of Representatives controlled by the Democrats has voted and decided on impeachment, a result that surprised few experts, the senate must now hold a trial.
Fortunately for President Trump, Republicans control the Senate as they have a majority, so it’s incredibly unlikely that early next year, when the Senate votes, President Trump will be removed from office if two-thirds of Senators vote to convict him. Its far more likely the Senate will vote to drop formal charges and acquit the President.
The strategy of the Democratic party and members leading the impeachment trial is obvious to even those who don’t pay much attention to politics. With the 2020 elections less than a year away, it’s an attempt to damage Trumps reputation enough to beat him.
By impeaching the President, nothing ‘real’ is actually achieved (unless the Senate votes to convict) as its only symbolic. But, by planting the idea that there were actual cases of abuses of power on behalf of the President into the minds of Americans across the country, Trump’s supporters could possibly question their support.
A similar strategy was utilised by Republicans in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. His reputation was damaged severely and even spread to Clintons successor, Al Gore, helping cost him the 2000 election.
This particular strategy could pay off for the Democrats leading up to the November 2020 elections. But, something that may not play in their favour, is the obvious bias even their own supporters are aware of.
A 2018 report looking into media bias in the US found that 45% of all likely voters believed that most reporters when writing about a congressional race, favour Democratic candidates whilst only 11% said they favour Republican.
Another report found 48% of respondents believed that the media coverage of President Trump was unfair and biased with even 16% of Democrats agreeing.
The fact that so many voting Americans are aware of this bias may lead to more people disliking the Democrats for what President Trump called a “witch-hunt”. Either way, impeachment proceedings are a risky move that’s either going to aid the Democrats or help re-elect Donald Trump.