The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump last week, despite its predictable and even preordained outcome, was an important opportunity for the American people who care to see clearly how deeply the former president of the United States betrayed his country.
It was also a test for Republicans in the U.S. Senate to see whether they would put patriotism ahead of their party by acknowledging his betrayal.
The House members who presented their case, by all accounts from all sides, made their case masterfully. They built their case with facts, piled high one after the other, reinforced with previously unseen videos from the Jan. 6 invasion of the U.S. Capitol, to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that Donald Trump was guilty of what he was charged. The president’s less than competent lawyers had nothing but insulting invective, irrelevant whataboutism, obvious lies and sheer gaslighting in response.
It would be tempting to see that partisans simply saw what they wanted to believe, but a poll conducted during the trial found that 71% of Americans believed Trump was at least partially responsible for inciting the Capitol insurrection and 30% believed he was fully responsible. Fifty percent of those polled supported his conviction and 53% said Trump should be barred from holding public office again.
More significantly, a solid majority of senators, including seven Republicans, voted 57-43 to convict Trump, a bipartisan rebuke that fell short only because Republican senators seized on the “technicality” that the trial was unconstitutional because Trump had left office. Unlike the first impeachment trial, where the victorious president celebrated his acquittal with a big party in the White House surrounded by Republican senators, many of those who voted to protect him still had harsh words for his behavior, especially now-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In blistering comments only minutes after voting to acquit Trump, McConnell said hypocritically but accurately that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol insurrection, noting the mob “did this because they’d been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on earth because he was angry he lost an election.” McConnell even suggested that Trump could still be tried now as a private citizen for criminal or civil charges related to his actions.
So while Trump escaped conviction, he was not exonerated at all, either by the watching public or eventually by historians who now have the House’s carefully compiled record of what he did. Trump is exposed, disgraced and belongs in the dustbin of history as the rich rubbish he is.
It’s the Republicans who now have the problem. The GOP senators, as before and as predicted, failed the patriotism test by putting their politics before their oath of office. By voting to excuse Trump’s attempted insurrection, they now own it by their complicity.
Seven Republican senators showed the courage of their convictions, including — to his great credit — North Carolina’s Richard Burr, but the rest of them held their noses and used a bogus excuse to protect a man who many of them admit privately they despise.
The worst of them — Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz — put their full corruption and toadyism to Trump on display, making no effort to be impartial or honest during the trial. And the only thing Trump’s lawyers had going for them was the fact that many of the “jurors” were actually co-conspirators in Trump’s early efforts to thwart the election, either by silence or encouraging his “big lie.” Even after the insurrection was squashed, many of the Republican senators still challenged the election results as Trump wanted.
National and state Republican Party officials, by their unwavering allegiance to Trump despite everything and their unreasonable censuring of any who oppose, have also in the process managed to embrace the right-wing craziness and sedition sweeping through their party. As political scientists have noted, the Republican Party was already in trouble for “going rogue” before Trump. Now the party has become known as cultish followers of Trump who are teetering on the edge of becoming domestic terrorists. National Republicans have totally lost their credibility on any fidelity to the rule or law or even respect for law and order.
The majority of Americans now just want to move on from Trump and deal with the serious problems our country now faces, topped by COVID-19 and the economy. President Biden had wisely kept his focus on his job, largely ignoring the Trump mess, and he still has much to do simply getting the administration up and running because of delays the Trump administration caused.
Republicans are going to have to figure out how to deal with a toxic ex-president and restore their party. The best thing all of us can do is to shun Trump and Trumpism, giving and paying him as little attention as possible as just another crazy old guy in Florida.
Instead, let us turn our attention to debating the policies and programs under proposal, looking for solutions, compromising where necessary, but relentlessly moving ahead to improve the lives and security of all American citizens.
The impeachment sideshow is over. The circus continues.
Ken Ripley, a Spring Hope resident, is The Enterprise’s editor and publisher emeritus.
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