Alan Zendell, January 26, 2021
In two weeks, the U. S. Senate will conduct the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Americans are so weary of the political divide, of all the infighting and lying and misrepresentations, not to mention the pandemic, most people just want this to fade into the rear view mirror.
That’s both unfortunate and dangerous. We need to remain engaged and let our Senators know what we expect them to do. The Senate trial will not be a criminal proceeding; it has neither established rules of evidence nor an obligation to enforce the law. The sideshow in the Senate will be entirely political, a game in which appearances and illusions are likely to take the place of reality.
If the recent past is an accurate predictor of the future, most Republican Senators will posture about responsibility and how awful the attack on the Capitol was. They’ll engage in procedural maneuverings and look for alternative means of slapping Trump’s wrists, doing everything possible to avoid going on the record with a vote to convict or acquit. Such is their overriding concern with their next election, their lingering fear of an animated Trump base, that a disappointingly small number will cast their votes based on the merits of the case.
The merits are pretty clear. If you screen out the partisan noise, most constitutional law scholars agree on two things: it is constitutional to conduct a trial of a former president, and the evidence, as seen live on television by about a billion people, clearly showed Donald Trump inciting insurrection against the Congress and attempting to undermine a presidential election. If you care about America, that’s pretty serious stuff.
The idea of the Senate trial as political theater is extremely dangerous. The implications of Trump’s actions on the behavior of future presidents cannot be overstated. When the House of Representatives decided to impeach him the first time, many people, myself included, strongly disagreed. With Republicans in control of the Senate, the majority of whom were terrified of angering Trump’s base, the certainty of acquittal was assured before the impeachment vote in the House was taken. The only possible outcome was emboldening a president with autocratic tendencies who had already demonstrated his disdain for the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
Democrats hell-bent on political retribution went ahead anyway, a very bad decision. As predicted, when the Senate refused to even hear evidence, Trump came away claiming total exoneration. Why else would he believe he could get away with subverting the election? Why else would he imagine that he could commit treason and suffer no consequences? It’s not much of a stretch to conclude that those things might never have happened if the House had shown some restraint or the Senate had demonstrated a shred of integrity. We were warned the first time, and failing to heed that warning is what brought us to where we are today.
If we care about the kind of America our kids will live in, we have no choice but to pay attention this time. If Trump is allowed to walk away from his actions without consequences, not only will he be emboldened to continue to stoke his base to undermine the Constitution, but there will be no restraints on the actions of any future president. Senators like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio have already thrown in the towel, publicly acknowledging that nothing is more important than their self interest. They have told us by their disingenuous inaction that Trump may have been right five years ago when he said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.
In fact, Trump will be right only if we all sit on our hands and do nothing. Americans hungry for a return to moral leadership voted in record numbers to deny him a second term. Georgians, appalled by the former president’s attempts to strong arm their state’s leaders seconded that with their votes. If you’d been asked in November, what odds would you have given Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of winning their runoffs elections?
That’s proof that collectively, Americans have formidable weapons, when they are wielded in concert. Republican Senators care about getting re-elected, and they care very much about how much money is in party coffers. How do we convince them that integrity has value? By speaking up now and telling them that they will pay a price for being morally bankrupt.
We don’t need violent demonstrations or extremist threats. We have telephones and the Internet. Make some noise. Write to your Senators. Use your voices and social media to assure that Donald Trump can never hold federal office again, and that actions like his will not be tolerated in the future.