After two days of consideration, and some moping, I’ve determined that I am disappointed with the final vote by the Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, especially since they were so close to calling witnesses who might have provided evidence that could have won over enough votes to convict him of the charges.
I got up early (for a Saturday) to watch the closing arguments, and even though Mitch McConnell had emailed that he would vote to acquit I was happy to learn that there was a chance that witnesses would be called to testify. As someone who believes Trump’s illegal and un-American behavior deserves whatever punishment is available, I began dreaming—calling witnesses was going to increase the chances that something would happen that would persuade more senators to convict Trump. It might be the only way to get Republicans who were hell bent on protecting Trump—or who at least wanted to look like they were protecting Trump, in order to insulate themselves from the anger of Trump nation—into a position in which they could vote their real conscience. Deep down, where everyone knows that Trump is a menace. Even Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.
Although disappointed in the verdict, I am not surprised by it. Because this is not a movie. In fiction, without a doubt, there would have been a surprise speech from some Republican senator that clearly and persuasively and emotionally laid the blame for inciting the attack on Congress on Trump, not just for his speech on the Ellipse that day but for the months of blatant lies inflaming his supporters into thinking a nefarious force was stealing the election. Something like this, right up until the “but…”
Of course, there was a nefarious force at work…it was Trump.
I can’t comprehend how or why people believed Trump’s warning that an election that had not yet happened had already been rigged. Not that Trump doesn’t have a high enough opinion of himself to make the claim that the only way he could lose would be through theft, but I still don’t get how so many Americans would accept this transparently self-serving claim as true—before the first vote was even cast, and with no offer of proof for how it would happen. After all the opposition to Trump’s policies and his actions that had developed over the years, why was it hard to believe that a lot of people wouldn’t want him to be president any more? You didn’t have to agree with those people to be honest enough with yourself to see that they were there, and they were going to vote for someone else.
The election came, and he did lose, and he bored right in with the lie. There was no evidence of widespread fraud. Court after court after court (after court) rejected literally dozens of legal claims. Right through the recounts and the canvasses in state after state, right through the certification of electoral votes in all fifty states, the lying persisted. These men and women who believed themselves patriots—the only real Americans left—convinced themselves that Trump was right, that taking up arms against their own government was the patriotic thing to do. They were so entrenched in the delusion that they even photo-documented themselves committing the crime, unburdened by any concern for their own legal culpability. Hundreds of them are now aware of just what a mistake that was.
The case against Trump presented by the House managers left any honest audience little wiggle room in concluding that Trump committed an impeachable offense: encouraging an armed assault against the United States Capitol and its defenders, the members of the legislative branch of government, and his own vice president. The smoking gun was right there in Trump’s tiny hand: even if you accept the argument that he meant it when told his supporters that day to make a peaceful protest, you have to explain why, for hours after the violence began, he did nothing to try to stop it. Didn’t get on TV and call on them to stop. Didn’t Tweet at them, telling them to stop. Didn’t call in the National Guard, or any other law enforcement to assist the Capitol police. Did nothing to restore law and order. *
A majority of the U.S. Senate voted that Trump is guilty of the charge, but not the two-thirds of members present that the Constitution requires. Today the Houston Chronicle editorial board praised those seven Republicans senators who braved the backlash sure to come by voting to convict based on the compelling evidence presented in the trial. As for the others:
Their colleagues who voted to acquit either averted their eyes from the glaring evidence or cowered behind strained legal arguments. History will judge them, but the American people need not wait. We bore witness to the assault on our nation’s Capitol and the evidence presented in trial.
We will not forget Trump’s crimes or the failure of most in his party to hold him accountable. Senators failed to show the same kind of courage that Republican state officials did as they resisted the former president’s pressure to overturn an election.
They failed to put their duty to safeguard democracy above partisan allegiance. They took no strength from former Vice President Mike Pence, who rebuffed calls to interfere in the Electoral College certification process, or from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who investigated allegations of voter fraud and, finding no evidence, chose to resign rather than perpetuate Trump’s false claims.
They failed to honor the bravery of the officers who risked their lives to prevent further carnage, including Capitol officer Brian D. Sicknick who was killed and the almost 140 officers who were bruised, bloodied and bashed by a mob wielding bats and flag poles.
Perhaps the starkest profile in cowardice belongs to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting to acquit and then delivering a damning speech proving he knew better. McConnell declared Trump “practically and morally” responsible for the Capitol riot but relied on a questionable legal interpretation to claim the Senate lacked the power to hold a former president accountable. Then he tried to pass blame on the House for delays when he himself blocked the Senate from starting the trial while Trump was still in office.
Such excuses, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s claim that Democrats were being “unnecessarily vindictive” in pursuing impeachment, aren’t fooling anybody who’s been paying attention.
So, disappointed…but not discouraged. Not yet. The verdict of the U.S. Senate does not protect Trump from the criminal justice system, which can still prosecute him for his actions in regard to the attack on the Capitol just as it can for his attempts in Georgia and elsewhere to pressure local officials to commit election fraud. Not to mention the civil and criminal investigations in New York and elsewhere, which get the feel of being too much to remember, so thanks to George Conway for bothering to write it down.
In the meantime I intend to try to follow the advice offered by E.J. Dionne yesterday: think about how the good that came out of this trial can be the foundation for the future:
…a diverse and able group of prosecutors laid out an indelible record not only of what happened on Jan. 6 and why, but also Trump’s irresponsibility throughout his term of office: his courting of the violent far right; his celebration of violence; his habit of privileging himself and his own interests over everything and everyone else, including his unrequitedly loyal vice president.
This record matters. We often like to pretend that we can move on and forget the past. But our judgments about the past inevitably shape our future. Every political era is, in part, a reaction to the failures — perceived and real — of the previous one. The Hoover-Coolidge Republicans loomed large for two generations of Democrats. Ronald Reagan built a thriving movement by calling out what he successfully cast as the sins of liberalism.
By tying themselves to Trump with their votes, most House and Senate Republicans made themselves complicit in his behavior. And Trump will prove to be even more of an albatross than Hoover, who, after all, had a moral core.
It’s a sign of how far and how fast the ex-president has fallen that opponents of impeachment rationalized their votes by saying, as McConnell did, that Trump must still confront the “criminal justice system” and “civil litigation.” You’re in trouble when your would-be friends are saying you should be prosecuted rather than impeached.
All of which strengthens the hand of a president whose central campaign theme was a warning against the threat that Trump posed to democracy itself. A bipartisan majority of 57 senators and 232 House members has now declared that Joe Biden was right.
Here’s some of what Joe Biden had to say, standing in front of the Capitol two weeks after Trump’s mob tried to steal an election and subvert our system of government.
Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II. Millions of jobs have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed. A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer. A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear. And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.
To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.
I ask every American to join me in this cause.
Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness. With unity we can do great things. Important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome this deadly virus. We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care secure for all. We can deliver racial justice. We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.
Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial. Victory is never assured.
Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward. And, we can do so now. History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.
And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh. All of us. Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war. And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.
My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this. America has to be better than this. And, I believe America is better than this.
This is a time of testing. We face an attack on democracy and on truth. A raging virus. Growing inequity. The sting of systemic racism. A climate in crisis. America’s role in the world. Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities. Now we must step up. All of us.
* EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to remove a referenced Tweet which claimed Trump and his family watched the attack on the Capitol from a party tent on the White House lawn. That was not correct; the Poynter Tweet below explains the error. HIPRB regrets the error.