Referring to the US president’s second impeachment, a Republican congressman snapped at a reporter, ‘This is political theatre.’ He was walking away while speaking, ending the interview before it began. What he said was pithy and about all a defensive Republican in America can say these days.
But he might have a point. This impeachment can be seen as a type of theatre, an entertaining performance, since the Senate vote won’t take place until after the disgraced president leaves office in a week’s time – even if he has to be forced out kicking and screaming like a toddler. In this way, the actions of the Democrats in the House of Representatives might be seen as symbolic. That is fitting, after all, as the actions of the rioters who stormed the Capitol last week were largely symbolic. Did they really think they were going to stop the process of bringing in a new president? A playoff of symbols is a common feature of good theatre. The congressman’s remark could have been a back-handed compliment.
The irony is that the Republican congressman is playing a part in the same theatrical performance that he himself scoffed at. His is the character that operates in a narrative resting comfortably in theatre of the absurd – an abstract world that rubs up against the real world and makes us question the purpose of human existence – the meaning of life. This congressman’s character is a minor one, akin to Boy in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Boy is a messenger, a character questioned by the two tramps, revealing more about their characters and their delusions. The ending of this impeachment play might not leave us with grand philosophical questions, but it is making many of us question the strength of our democracies.
Putting aside symbolism, another way still of looking at this act of impeachment is through the lens of criminal justice. Clear to anyone who has been following post-election news from America, the president has been inciting protests by claiming, despite the lack of any evidence, that the election was fraudulent. Moreover, the act of inciting violence can be found in the president’s tweets and in his comments outside the White House, from where he encouraged a ‘fight’ and spoke about bravery, while repeating the slogans of the election being ‘rigged’ and ‘stolen.’ If Tr**p were an ordinary citizen, he’d already be arrested and awaiting his trial on charges of terrorism and citing violence against the government. This impeachment is a theatrical performance that mirrors the judicial process that is not taking place, a cathartic type of theatre on par with the great works of classical Greek drama.
A final note – I deliberately haven’t referred to this congressman by name since other Republican politicians have been saying the exact same thing, reading the same lines from the same script.