Donald Trump is on Twitter again. Today, he suggests that the presidential power of pardon might allow him to absolve himself of any conviction for collusion with the Russian government over his election. The US President has “the complete power to pardon”, he said, before complaining about leaks designed to undermine him and dismissing the allegations against him with his signature phrase, “fake news”.
In a way, actually, he is right. His opponents ought to calm down and turn down the indignation dial. The Independent is not suggesting that Mr Trump is a good president or that he has done nothing wrong, but we urge our readers to bear in mind two important points.
One is that President Trump is not likely to be removed from office. What people loosely refer to as impeachment is a two-stage procedure. To impeach means to charge – that is, to arrive at the point at which the authority decides that there is a case to answer. In this case, the authority is the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, which has to carry a vote on an article of impeachment by a simple majority to bring a case against a president.
The more important stage is the trial, in the Senate, the upper house of Congress. Senators have to listen to the evidence and then decide whether to convict the president of “high crimes and misdemeanours”. Crucially, however, this vote has to be by a two-thirds majority.
There is no prospect of Mr Trump being impeached this early in his time in office, not least because the Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives. Even if they lose that majority in next year’s mid-term elections, it may not happen. And, even if it does, the chances of a conviction in the Senate are remote.
The second point is that the obsession with Mr Trump and his Twitter account is diverting attention from important questions. We do not, incidentally, blame ourselves or journalists generally for falling for this distraction technique: we reflect the interest, bordering on horrified fascination, of our readers in the unusual character who occupies the White House. But we have to try to keep our focus on the things that really matter.
For US citizens, we would suggest, the failure this week of the attempt to overturn Obamacare is probably more important than the latest twists and turns of the Russian collusion investigation. The collapse of the Senate Republicans’ draft bill almost certainly means that Obamacare is now irreversible. This is good news for America and a historic vindication of Mr Trump’s predecessor. Big legislative and social change in the US is very, very difficult; President Obama achieved it. The principle of social insurance for healthcare is now entrenched in the US.
For the rest of the world, one of the most important stories out of the US this week was the progress made by state and city governments across America in working to minimise climate change. President Trump’s largely symbolic repudiation of the Paris climate-change agreement (it does not take effect until 2020) might even, as David Usborne comments today, have galvanised other parts of the US polity to intensify their green efforts.
To be sure, the Trump administration’s policy on Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and North Korea is confused and uncertain, if not yet disastrous. But if we look up from the President’s Twitter feed occasionally, we will see that the news from America is not necessarily as alarming as it seems.
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