Impeachment: The American equivalent of a parliamentary no-confidence vote?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 15, 2021

Photo: Unsplash


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

On the Friday before Donald Trump was acquitted for a second time in as many years in his impeachment trial, I heard Cardozo School of Law professor and ABC News contributor Kate Shaw  discuss an interesting new concept: “Impeachment talk”.

Impeachment, she said to Five Thirty Eight’s Galen Druke, may now become the usual sort of routine for a Congress when it isn’t controlled by the president’s party.

“Are we used to it [impeachment]”, the interviewer asked. He meant the fact that we did it twice in two years and that too just 30 or so years from the last time the procedure was used. Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment had been a shock to the system because it was the first time since 1868 that the procedure was used to rebuke an American president for high crimes and misdemeanours.

The professor was very clear in her response. There’s long been concern that impeachment shouldn’t be too routinely invoked, she said. She didn’t mean that Mr Trump’s two impeachment trials weren’t warranted. (And that a minimum requirement of functional democracies is to hold norm-violators and lawbreakers to account, no matter how high or low their office.)

Professor Shaw went on to explain that the sense of impeachment being more often invoked is accurate because it is true. Mr Trump’s extraordinary conduct has led to two impeachment trials in two years, which is “half of all” the impeachment trials America has ever had in its history, she pointed out.

Accordingly, the professor suggested, impeachment may be set to become a more mundane event, a usual sort of political action, the American equivalent of a no-confidence vote in a parliamentary democracy.

“I don’t think that’s a good development but I don’t think that’s a fatal one either,” she concluded.

It’s an interesting idea.