A Historic Second Impeachment

The US House of Representatives voted tonight on House Resolution no. 40, to impeach President Trump for “incitement of insurrection”. All 222 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted in support of the impeachment, 197 Republicans opposed the resolution. Four Members of Congress refrained from casting their vote. This makes Trump’s presidency historic in yet another way, by making him the first president to be impeached twice.

There was a lengthy debate on the House Floor in which the Democrats denounced the President’s actions and language in the events unfolding on January 6, as well as in the months leading up to that and in the week since. In particular they pointed out the President’s and several Republican politicians’ refusal to accept the 2020 election results and their many attempts at finding ways to contest the results, both through legal and more questionable means. Many Republicans defended the President, although most denounced the actual events of last Wednesday. Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney was applauded for her statement released yesterday in support of the impeachment process, in which she said that “[t]here has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution”.

Many Republicans asked during the debate for due process to be followed instead of such a rushed impeachment before the criminal investigations are even completed. Some Republicans even compared the events of 1/6, an event generally agreed upon as an attack on the democratic process and thus also the Constitution, to the protests that have taken place across the country during 2020 in response to the many killings of Black people. Most Republicans touted a call for unity instead of impeachment, claiming that an impeachment will further divide the American society in a time when they should focus on mending fences. That is quite a convenient claim after having spent the last two months fueling the division by calling the election results, the most democratic way for people to make their voices heard, into question.

The impeachment will now proceed to the Senate for a trial, and a conviction will require a 2/3 majority. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so far seems unwilling to call the Senate into session early, as they are currently on a break until January 19. Thus the impeachment process will probably start after President-elect Biden’s inauguration when the Senate will be tied between Republicans and Democrats, with the Democrats being in majority since the Vice President-elect will have the tiebreaking vote.

A good question is “why bother” if the impeachment trial happens after Trump’s presidency has ended. The prudent answer is “principle”. Should words matter, or is there no limitation to the First Amendment, regardless of consequences? Or is this simply a vendetta and a pathway to stop Trump from ever holding a public office ever again?

This New York Times article puts today’s House vote in context, identifying which representative voted in today’s session, compared to who voted to call on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment yesterday and who objected to the January 6 certification of the 2020 election results.

The 2020 election finally concluded

After hours of interruption by rioters breaching Capitol, Vice President Mike Pence and a joint session in Congress affirmed President-Elect Joseph Biden as the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election. The joint session of Congress confirmed his victory by acknowledging the 306 Electoral College votes, although various Republican senators and representatives objected to the election results in some states. After debates in separate chambers at each objection, the majority of the joint session still voted to uphold the results by the Electoral College.

Only hours before it also became clear that the run-off election in Georgia the day before had resulted in both Senate seats going to the candidates from the Democratic Party, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. That means that the Senate is tied between the Republicans and Democrats, leaving the Vice President with the tiebreaker vote.

Looking back at 2020

In our last lesson before Christmas we brainstormed what has happened during the autumn of 2020, since we have discussed the events in class on a weekly basis, but not maintained the blog for future reference. We proved to ourselves that not only are we able to dig deep into our memories and remember the important events when we put our heads together; we are also better at seeing how events are linked, influence each other and how they can twist, turn and develop in expected and unexpected ways. The items below are the most important events of the last half year, even though we touched upon other topics as well.

The US Supreme Court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on 18 September 2020. That started a race for the president to get a third justice nominated and approved before the election, ending in the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett on 29 September and her confirmation on 26 October 2020. The Democrats were none too pleased that the Republicans refused to confirm President Obama’s nominee 10 months before the 2016 election, arguing that the electorate should have their say in choosing the president who would get to nominate someone for such an important position. That did not stop the Republicans from doing a one-eighty four years later, nominating and confirming their candidate only weeks before the presidential election on 3 November 2020. Rather they can congratulate themselves on having confirmed three Supreme Court Justices during one single presidential term.

The US presidential election

On 3 November 2020 the US experienced record voter turnout. It took days to count and recount the votes, though by the Saturday Joseph R. Biden, Jr was announced the winner and for the first time in American history a woman, and a woman of colour, was elected vice president: California Senator Kamala Harris. The incumbent president, Donald J. Trump, has filed more than 50 lawsuits in a pursuit to overturn the election results in several states. Most have been rejected, some are still being processed. The two Senate seats in Georgia could not be filled in the November election, so they held a runoff election on 5 January 2021. That proved to be quite exciting, since the November Senate election left the Republicans with 50 Senators, the Democrats with 48.

Campaigning for the presidential election and the aftermath of the election has been highly partisan and with some unprecedented behaviour and accusations. The first presidential debate, for instance, did not leave either candidate a good option for the American electorate and the candidates failed gravely in both rhetoric, behaviour and appeal. Trump’s later comment to the right-wing organization Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” did nothing to calm matters.

The pandemic

Under the current Administration, Covid 19 has run rampant in the American society making the USA one of the hardest hit countries during the entire 2020. In October it reached the White House. Central politicians in the administration took part in so-called “superspreader events” both at the White House and at campaign rallies through the summer and autumn, all the while rejecting wearing face masks as effective. Well, the problem might really have been that many people in the USA do not regard Covid 19 as particularly dangerous the President even initially claiming that the common flu is more lethal.  

The UK has not got off scot-free either. They have had several lockdowns, central politicians have been affected just like in the US, and the UK are exhausted and tired from the restrictions in society, like everyone else. Additionally, they, like in the USA, are experiencing higher unemployment and a growing number of poor people. It has gone so far that UNICEF has started a domestic emergency response in Britain.

Congress in the USA has had difficulties agreeing on financial relief funds for their citizens as well.

#BlackLivesMatter

The year has seen many killings of and attacks on people of colour. It all came to a peak with the death of George Floyd in May. But many Black people have been killed both before and after, in intentional and accidental attacks, by civilians and police alike. During the summer and autumn of 2020 there have been several attacks on police headquarters, many demonstrations and protests, more violent than non-violent, and the national guard has been sent to help (or incite) in many affected areas.

Brexit

After years of negotiations and changing Cabinets thrice since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the UK and the EU finally agreed on an exit deal in December. The deal was officially approved by both Houses of Parliament on 31 December 2020, ensuring soft Brexit and not a no-deal hard Brexit.

The British monarchy

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex stepped down as senior members of the royal family in 2020. They also left the UK and moved to California. The Duke is still the sixth in line to the throne.

America burning

The brutal killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis has led to days of unrest and riots. While most demonstrations are peaceful, some are also out of control and resulting in looting and violent behavior. What is going on in America? What is president Trump doing to deal with the situation? Read up or watch recent news stories to get an update. Look at the following article for a discussion on how this would have been portrayed in the news had it happened somewhere else:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/29/how-western-media-would-cover-minneapolis-if-it-happened-another-country/?fbclid=IwAR010KdADTd_il3yvzPcoDxJKpWKbLdOP5i0PjaLMnTh5WuWCZcWfurZIVc

Langston Hughes was a Black American poet who lived from 1901 to 1967. Read his poem “Let America be America again” from 1936 (in the midst of the Great Depression) and discuss its relevance today.

https://poets.org/poem/let-america-be-america-again

George Floyd 'riots,' 'violence,' 'looting': Words matter, experts say
https://eu.lancastereaglegazette.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/31/george-floyd-riots-violence-looting-words-matter-experts-say/5290908002/

In the news

Bernie Sanders has withdrawn his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, and the Corona virus continues to spread…How did the United States — the richest country in the world — become the worldwide epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, with one person dying of COVID-19 every 47 seconds? And how likely is it that Trump will be reelected in November? What implications does it have that Bernie Sanders is out of the presidential race? Can Biden beat Trump? And are female leaders more able to deal with the Corona crisis than their male counterparts?

Study the articles below and be ready to discuss these questions:) And then there’s Obama… maybe the most important supporter Joe Biden has…listen to this:)

https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivahwittenbergcox/2020/04/13/what-do-countries-with-the-best-coronavirus-reponses-have-in-common-women-leaders/?fbclid=IwAR2I7j4yDm7omdvlysnkOhqvOwiJmOOEIsHf7bVEdtABzAfZ2Yy3wjPWCX4#1a077c803dec

And look to New Zealand and PM Jacinda Ardern: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/15/world/jacinda-ardern-pay-cut-coronavirus-intl/index.html

After our group talks today, discuss (in the comment field below) what message Obama is trying to get across here, and how he does it. Point to language features and/or literary devices he uses and explain how they reinforce his message.

13th – A Documentary on the Unjust American Prison System

The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners. Think about that. —Former President Barack Obama Our justice system is a human rights catastrophe and one of the biggest moral crises of our time. — News commentator and author Van Jones

Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary film ’13th’ reveals how mass incarceration is an extension of slavery.

The film takes its title from the 13th amendment, which outlawed slavery but left a significant loophole. This clause, which allowed that involuntary servitude could be used as a punishment for crime, was exploited immediately in the aftermath of the civil war and, DuVernay argues, continues to be abused to this day. Source: The Guardian

Discuss in your groups:

  1. History is not just stuff that happens by accident. We are the products of history that our ancestors choose, if we’re white. If we are black, we are the products of the history that our ancestors most likely did not choose. Yet here we are all together, the products of that set of choices. And we have to understand that in order to escape from it. — Kevin Gannon, 13th What are your thoughts on this quote? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  2. President Lyndon B. Johnson ushered in the War on Crime, Nixon began a figurative War on Drugs that became a literal War on Drugs in the Reagan era. Were you surprised to learn about the racial underpinnings of these legislative policies, and the active role of the state in criminalizing and targeting communities of color? Discuss using the quotation below: The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did. John Ehrlichman, Nixon Administration Advisor
  3. Super predator. Criminal. Think about the power of media and the power of words. Discuss media and how words impact the perception and criminalization of people of color, both in the past and the present (animalistic, violent, to be feared, threat to white people, criminals, etc.). Give modern-day examples.
  4. According to the documentary, President Clinton built the infrastructure for mass incarceration: mandatory minimums (taking the discretion away from judges), militarization of police (SWAT teams), three-strikes law, and truth-in-sentencing laws (must serve 85% of sentence). Discuss the role of politics and crime and how you see it impact communities today (both past and current administrations).
  5. Many politicians have apologized for their role in promoting the devasting “tough on crime” legislation. Considering the billions of dollars made off the imprisonment of people and the cases of unjust imprisonment, is an apology enough? Should these communities and families be repaid in a more material, restorative way? Why/why not?https://educationforjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Film-Discussion-Guide-13th.pdf
  6. The film argues that there is a direct link between American slavery and the modern American prison system. What is your take on this argument? Source: Discussion guide.

My takeaways:

List three ways this documentary has impacted you. Write the answers on your blog.

  1. What did you learn?
  2. What insights did it provide?
  3. What questions do you still have?

This is an adaption of Ann Michalesen’s blog post on teaching the 13th documentary: https://annmichaelsen.com/2019/01/12/teaching-the-13th-documentary/

Election Day

Bilderesultat for election day uk 2019

Today is Election Day in the UK. The latest polls show the Tories still slightly ahead, maybe increasing their majority in Parliament… But what will happen with Britain, with Brexit – how united can the United Kingdom be after all this? Read this fascinating story about London Road in different parts of the UK: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2019/12/world/divided-kingdom-gbr-ge19-intl/

And while the British are voting, the House of Representatives in the USA have filed their articles of impeachment against President Trump. The first article charges him with abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to assist him in his re-election campaign by damaging Democratic rivals. The second article charges him with obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and refusing to provide documents in response to House subpoenas in the impeachment inquiry. The impeachment trial against the President could start as early as next week. Will Trump be impeached, or stand stronger than ever before the election in 2020? Here’s an interesting commentary on similarities between the UK and the USA in the way people are voting: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50717536

Trump promised to “Make America great again”. Are British voters hoping for the same for Britain?

Update after the election:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=2595887153825540

Write a short blog post where you sum up the results of the election and comment on what you think might be some of the consequences.

The Constitution and the Supreme Court

Bilderesultat for picture founding fathers

The US Constitution was written in 1787 and ratified (accepted by all the states) in 1789, making it a 230 years old document…Needless to say, there have been many changes to it after that. In order to change the Constitution, the Congress needs to pass an Amendment. Another way of changing thhe Constitution is if the Supreme Court rules the law unconstitutional.

Look into the process of how the American Constitution was made and the process required to change it. What are the 10 first Amendments called, and why? What other important amendments have been made? Choose 1-2 of these and write a little bit about them.

Look into the role the Supreme Court plays in the American political system. What powers does it have? Find examples of important Supreme Court decisions that have made an impact on how the Constitution is interpreted.

Group Photo of Nime Justices