US President Donald Trump is off the hook. The Republican-dominated Senate has voted to acquit him of the twin charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. While the outcome of the third presidential impeachment trial in US history was never in doubt, given the Republican dominance in the Senate, the episode has exposed deep divisions in the American society. Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, joined Democrats in voting to convict, becoming the first Senator ever to vote to remove a President of his own party. In the 100-member Senate, the ruling Republican party has 53 seats while the Democrats have 47. The acquittal is expected to turbocharge the maverick Republican leader’s bid for a second term in the November presidential election. The political bitterness surrounding the impeachment trial will now shift to the campaign trail as Trump moved quickly to capitalise on the moment, sending out a fund-raising email with a triumphant declaration, “Sorry haters, I’m not going anywhere.” After five months of acrimonious hearings, investigations and revelations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, what came out clearly was the widening partisan divide that tested the country and its institutions. The impeachment proceedings stemmed from Trump’s attempt to push Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to probe unsubstantiated corruption allegations against Joe Biden, former Vice-President and 2020 White House contender. The President is accused of dangling two things as bargaining chips to Ukraine — withholding $400m of military aid to Ukraine that had already been allocated by Congress and a White House meeting for Ukraine’s President.
By going ahead with the impeachment trial whose verdict was a foregone conclusion, the Democrats took a huge political risk that may well backfire on their presidential nominee in the coming election. The latest Gallup poll showed that 49% of Americans approved of Trump’s job performance, the highest figure since he took office three years ago. Public opinion polls also suggest that though a growing number of Americans agreed that Trump most likely abused his office and acted improperly, a majority of them were against his removal from office. However, Democrats took heart in winning over Senator Romney and quickly signalled that they would continue their investigations into the President. They also lobbied in vain to expand the scope of the trial to include witnesses and documents that the President refused to provide during the House inquiry. The last three years of Trump’s presidency has been marked by toxicity, brazenness and bigotry, be it his remarks against immigrants or his foreign policies dealing with Iran and China. But, the exoneration in the impeachment trial will be seen by his supporters as a vindication of his leadership.