Donald Trump, who stands accused of inciting a deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January, has this week become the first president in US history to be impeached twice. The House of Representatives accused Mr Trump of encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud. He now faces trial in the upper chamber, the Senate, which can vote to bar him from ever holding public office again. That trial however will likely not be completed before Trump’s term of office comes to an end on Jan. 20, and the point has been debated in the US about whether a president can be impeached after he has left office and what purpose it would serve at all.
One commentator, Hugh Hewitt, writing in The Washington Post, described the entire exercise as ‘pointless revenge’. ‘It isn’t principled, it isn’t concerned with justice and it isn’t concerned with the future,’ he stated. To which Michael Blake, Professor of Philosophy, Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington, who writes about the moral justifications of social and legal institutions, argues that there may be good moral reason for this impeachment: ‘The move to impeach President Trump is an indication that there is a need to mark out, through a definitive statement, what no president ought to do. It will also set the moral limits of the presidency – and, thereby, send a message to future presidents who might be tempted to follow in President Trump’s footsteps.’
That the insurrection happened at the US Capitol, the seat of American democracy and usually referred to as the ‘citadel of democracy’, shocked the whole world, but the second impeachment of Donald Trump has come to demonstrate that the system in the US works, and that it would be wrong to compare the insurrection at the US Capitol to similar events that occasionally happen in other countries.
Our own system provides that nobody is above the law but that people are presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. Our Constitution provides for safeguards with regard to the protection of the individual’s rights and avenues for redress, but even the best constitutional safeguards are not always enough. What is equally important are the individuals who occupy constitutionally protected positions and their own view of the responsibilities of their office, their integrity and their commitment to uphold the Constitution and serve the best interests of the people and the country. Be it the police and its CCID, ICTA, IBA or any other relevant entity in a given context, one would expect them to act with the same sense of fairness and alacrity whether the complainant happens to be a Minister or the average citizen. But that does not appear to be the case at all times.
For example, we still do not know what the Independent Broadcasting Authority, as the regulator for all radio stations has done following the stand taken by the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) before the last general elections with regard to the MBC when it declared that the public broadcasting station might have breached the law. Yet the IBA Board went on recently to take action against Top FM, perceived to be anti-government. There are so many other instances where the authorities have been seen to be pursuing a policy of double standards. The police has in the recent past acted within hours of complaints made by members of the ruling party regarding posts on social media, but no such alacrity has been seen when the President of the Labour Party gave a statement to the police about the alleged criminal defamation by the MBC.
The same scenario of perceived double standards had been seen to be playing out in the case of Soopramanien Kistnen, the MSM activist who has been found dead at Telfair, Moka. There are also instances of ministers and parliamentarians who have had to step down following allegations of corruption or misdemeanour, as well as the forced exit of Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, briefly the President in this regime’s first mandate.
That is why the impeachment of President Trump and the Senate trial that is to follow is of interest for us, in that the outcome can act as a guide to our legal brains and/or legislators as to what constitutional changes or reforms need to be brought about to detract future occupiers of constitutional positions or of public office representing the people from behaviours and actions that go against the national interest and the dignity expected by virtue of being in such positions.
Besides the process of the impeachment and what is to follow, there is also the issue of being eligible for public office in future that has been evoked, and surely is equally relevant for our country too. On the other hand, one must also question whether such destitute individuals should continue to benefit by the perks that follow them out of office, as these have a bearing on the taxpayers who have to pay the price for such largesses.
As many other observers have pointed out in the past, there is definitely a need to revisit our Constitution in light of the many incidents concerning public personalities in official positions that have taken place and for which there are no provisions in the present Constitution. We shall be watching events unfold in the US with great interest.
* Published in print edition on 15 January 2021