The most bipartisan impeachment in our nation’s history ended up ten brave enough Republicans short of conviction. So we finished in a place that seemed certain from the outset. Still, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted to convict former President Donald J. Trump of inciting insurrection against our seat of government, the symbol of our democracy, and of neglecting his duty to halt the bloodshed. Seven Republicans did have the backbone to put country over party, but sadly that fell ten votes short of the two thirds necessary to find Trump guilty.
After the roll call, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a blistering denunciation of Trump, declaring him “practically and morally responsible for the events of the day.” McConnell made it clear that, from the former President’s perpetuation of the Big Lie about the election’s having been stolen, to his weeks-long incendiary language spurring the rioters to storm the Capitol, to his failure to provide backup to the beleaguered Capitol Police, to his continuing to feed the crowd’s rage against Vice President Mike Pence even while knowing that Pence was physically endangered, all of this constituted violation of his oath of office. McConnell further asserted that Trump is still vulnerable to prosecution in civil and criminal courts as a private citizen.
But McConnell, ever the self-proclaimed institutionalist, disregarded the Senate’s affirming the legitimacy of the impeachment trial just days before. Instead, he hung his vote not to convict on a synthetic technicality, the slim reed of perceived unconstitutionality, which his hallowed institution had already decided. Even more outrageously, he brazenly and hypocritically asserted that, because Trump had already left office, the impeachment vote to convict was not valid. But it was McConnell who, when the House had voted to impeach, refused on January 15th to accept the impeachment document from House managers or bring the Senate back into session until after the January 20th inauguration. His audacity ranks with that of the murderer who killed both his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the Court because he was an orphan!
I would like not to feel deflated. The House managers presented a brilliant case, cogently laying out the facts of how Trump knowingly instigated the insurrection, laying the groundwork even before the election, lying about the outcome, spurring thugs to attack the halls of government and interfere with the peaceful transfer of power. The evidence was in the public domain for all to see and recoil from. The record will be there for all of history. It also provides a roadmap for additional criminal and civil litigation against now-private-citizen Trump.
This trial was about more than Donald Trump however. It was about more even than the future of the Republican Party, of which he remains the face and driving force. It’s about whether future Presidents believe they can do anything they want after losing an election and do so with impunity. It’s also about whether the Senate has given the green light to future domestic terrorists. This is a source of deep apprehension, which may only be partly allayed if other authorities prosecute the former President, begin to hold him accountable, and make domestic terrorism a national security priority.
Equally troubling is the weakened threat of impeachment against any sitting President, at any point in his or her term, regardless of the high crime or misdemeanor. The 43 Senators who voted Trump not guilty have effectively ceded the Senate’s Constitutionally-required oversight to the Executive branch. If Trump’s behavior here is deemed not worthy of conviction, then what behavior could ever lead to conviction as long as one third of the Senate, tribally attached to the President, holds firm? If so, dealing with Trump, who boastfully wrote yesterday, “Our movement… has just begun,” is the easy part.