Human good and a Groundhog year when Trump goes on trial for a second time in 365 days

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 9, 2021


“What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds”
– Will Rogers

Here’s the silver lining as former president Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial begins a second time: This is the last one.

Be of good cheer, we will not have to revisit Mr Trump’s words and deeds after this, paying close attention to his dismal thought processes (if they can be called “thought”), statements and actions.

Mr Trump will not have a third impeachment trial. After this, any reckoning of any sort will be in the courts. Indeed, if Mr Trump is even taken to task for any of his actions and proclivities throughout his life, it’s more likely the process will play out in state rather than federal court.

That said, this particular Senate trial deserves to be scrutinised for two reasons.

First, it addresses a growing problem within many western societies – the failure to honour both rights and responsibilities. Financial Times’ columnists have been pointing out veteran Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani’s Straits Times’ piece on the lessons that American philosopher John Rawls would probably take from the rampaging Covid infection rate in the West and the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. This is an important perspective at this point of time.

Rawls’ work was recognised by president Bill Clinton with a National Humanities Medal for helping “a whole generation of learned Americans revive their faith in democracy itself.” Today, could it reawaken Americans to a sense of the common weal?

One of Rawls’ works, ‘Political Liberalism’, is particularly relevant to the US in 2021 because it considers the question of political legitimacy in a liberal state in the context of intractable philosophical, religious, and moral disagreement among citizens over what constitutes human good.

This brings us to the second question thrown up the impeachment trial. America’s Republican Party appears to be signalling that it is fine with a complete and utter breakdown of rule of law by arguing that it is unconstitutional to try a former president after he’s left office.

Were this to become the norm in the US, any lame duck American president could, in the three months between the general election on the second Tuesday in November  and his successor’s inauguration on January 20, commit any crimes they wanted, secure in the knowledge that they would not be held to account and punished.

Would that constitute human good?