And in breaking news - The six minute speech that launched Trump’s impeachment inquiry
“The actions of the President have seriously violated the constitution. The House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry and directing our six committees to proceed with their investigation under that umbrella. No one is above the law”
…. said Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, amidst reports that President Trump has colluded with the president of Ukraine to damage a political rival. However scratchy the 79-year old’s delivery might have been in front of the cameras, there can be no doubting her rhetorical dexterity. First elected to Congress in 1987, (and the highest-ranking elected woman in US history), Pelosi has presided over her fair share of political intrigue. But Tuesday’s statement may well prove historic. Before analysing all hard hitting six-minutes of it, let’s understand a few things about impeachment
Firstly, while calls for presidential impeachment are almost as common as Big Macs and mass shootings, only three leaders have suffered the indignity. Two, (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), were later acquitted and one (Richard Nixon), resigned before the ruling could be triggered.
Secondly, impeachment is an arduous process. Once the inquiry is launched, there is an investigation. Depending on the outcome, the House of Representatives passes a formal allegation - also known as an article of impeachment. It is upon this that the defendant is officially "impeached". But that’s not the end. Next, the Senate - led by the Chief Justice of the US - must formally try the accused. If found guilty, the Senate then votes on whether conviction shall take place or not. Only on the strength of a two-thirds majority is the official removed from office. The last president to endure such scrutiny was George W. Bush who weathered no less than 35 articles, mostly linked to his (mis)handling of the Iraq War but also to medicare and global warming. Despite this, Bush went on to complete his second term, bowing out in the conventional manner. Simply put, if you hate Donald Trump and can’t wait to see him gone, don’t rush to the bottle store just yet.
But back to Tuesday's statement. It’s worth noting that to date, Pelosi has resisted calls for such drastic measures believing the threat to her party (to say nothing of National unity) to be too high. That she is changing her stance now is apparently an indication of the gravity of the circumstances. Her speech - which was deceptively short and simple, needed to reflect that gravity. How did she do this?
She established the facts
Since US politics is so hopelessly febrile and polarised, any attempt to bleach the emotion from such an announcement is almost certainly doomed to fail. But by stating what was clear and incontrovertible, Pelosi demonstrated not just procedural caution but political circumspection as well. With statements like “the facts are these,'' Pelosi meticulously outlined where and how the constitution had been violated. She also stressed that this was no sudden and vindictive act of frontier justice, (though, of course, many Trump supporters would beg to differ):
“For the past several months we have been investigating in our committees and litigating in the courts so the House can gather all the relevant facts and whether to exercise its Article 1 powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity of articles of impeachment”
She established her credentials
Next, Pelosi explained why no-one but herself was so conspicuously qualified to handle such an incendiary announcement. Amongst her many credentials, she highlighted 25 years of service on the Intelligence Committee as well as her involvement in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She reflected on her involvement in the creation of the Whistleblower Laws, emphasising the efforts made by the working group to ensure balance and caution in the writing process. Having established such credentials, she said of Trump’s behaviours:
“I can say with authority that the Trump administration’s actions undermine both the national security and our intelligence and our protections of whistleblowers”
She called on History to show what was at stake
By anchoring Tuesday’s action in the formative days of the Republic, no-one was left in any doubt as to the gravity of the moment. “The times have found us,” said Pelosi, recalling the words of Thomas Paine to his fellow patriots during the dark days of the American Revolution. She also lamented the irony that Trump’s actions had taken place on September 17 2019, the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. On that historic day, Pelosi pointed out, a crowd had asked Benjamin Franklin whether the freshly signed constitution offered the people a republic or a monarchy. “A republic...but only if you can keep it,” was the great man’s reply. “If only you can keep it”.
As I’ve pointed out before, influence is a highly nuanced and creative discipline. According to Aristotle, the Father of Rhetoric, each influencer must craft a complex and unique interplay of three things:
Ethos; their credibility with the subject matter.
Logos; their ability to rally data, stats and facts to make their point.
Pathos; their ability to inject emotional appeal to their narrative.
Pelosi’s short speech was an artful and provocative blend of all three. But while it was politically deft and historically significant, there should be no doubting the darkness of the days. Though Americans may not admit it openly, I sense many yearn more for healing words than dividing ones