Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Trump's Impeachment Trial Really About Soul of Republican Party

 Impeachment is not a criminal trial.

Donald Trump’s legal team will argue during his impeachment trial in the Senate next week that his inflaming oratory during the rally preceding the sacking of the Capitol by his supporters was protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

That argument might be legally sustainable in a court of law. But the impeachment hearing is a political exercise. Rules of engagement in a courtroom do not necessary apply.

In voting to acquit Trump during his first impeachment trial for trying to coerce a foreign government to interfere in an American election, several Republican senators said they felt Trump had been chastised enough and would not engage in similar abusive behavior.

How naive they turned out to be. Trump tried to force state officials in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania to change certified election results to be in his favor instead of the declared winner, Joe Biden. In a recorded conversation with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, he beseeched him to find 11,780 votes so he could win Georgia. He threatened Raffensperger could face criminal action if he did not.

By rejecting election results for more than two months, by claiming they were fraudulent and that victory was stolen from him, he inflamed his followers’ passions, reaching a climax when he urged his Stop the Steal rally to go with him to the Capitol to stop the official acceptance by Congress of the Electoral College results.

Chicken that he is, Trump slinked back to the safety of the White House as the protesters headed down Pennsylvania Avenue. But that scamper retreat actually compounded his guilt. Viewing televised coverage of the assault on Congress, hearing the mob’s cries for revenge on Vice President Mike Pence for accepting the results, Trump did nothing. He refused to send in troops to quell the insurrection. 

He didn’t lift a finger until well after much of the damage was done and then only after repeated entreaties by his aides. His actions, his inaction, contributed to the deaths of five Americans including one Capitol policeman. Subsequently, two other Capitol policemen took their own lives.

His actions, his inaction, put at risk senators, congressmen, congressional staff, Capitol police, his own vice president. Also, exposed for the taking to the rabble, were government papers with possible classified material.

A more egregious transgression by a sitting president of the United States has never occurred.

The evidence is overwhelming against him, especially as free speech is not a tenable defense in an impeachment trial. There is a clear link between Trump’s months of incitement to overturn an election and the attack. 

Except, in these politicized times, Republican senators will latch onto any reason to acquit. The fear they felt January 6, as rioters broke through barriers and ransacked desks and offices, pales in comparison to the fear of revenge they believe would come their way from Trump and his legions if they vote to convict.

They argue it is unconstitutional to try a president after he has left office. But precedent is against them, as the Senate has adjudicated impeachment of federal officials after their terms of office have ended. 

They say losing the presidency and impeachment have been punishment enough. But we’ve seen “enough” is never sufficient to stop Trump from doing more damage. Without a conviction, and subsequent punishment barring him from holding any office again, he would be eligible to run for president once more. Imagine the force of evil he would unleash should he win the presidency again. 

The impeachment trial of Donald Trump begins next Tuesday. But in so many ways it is not a trial of a grifter who rose for a time to be the most powerful man on earth. 

Rather, it is a trial of a once Grand Old Party that embraced the abolition of slavery and the equality of races, the enactment of anti-trust legislation, the advancement of environmental laws, the development of the interstate highway system, the successful ideological battle to end Communist hegemony in Eastern Europe, and the building of coalitions to combat Islamic aggression. 

It is a trial to discern if statesmanship trumps partisanship, if reverence for principle can overcome allegiance to demagoguery, if the belief in our constitutional republic can survive the machinations of a small, selfish man to bend the government to his will over the propositions upon which our nation was founded.  

Do at least 17 Republican senators have the courage to do the right thing, to cast a guilty verdict that, together with 50 Democrats, would convict Trump? 

I doubt it.