Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 14, 2021
With a bipartisan vote in the House, America has impeached Donald Trump for the second time — deciding 232–197 that once again that Trump’s acts are criminal and abuses of office, deciding that, again, Trump had acted for Trump, not the nation.
As we know, the double-impeachment is a first.
On its face, it is really quite a statement about where we find ourselves: A President tried to overturn elections, ripped the Constitution, and “incited an insurrection” on Congress to get his way. And then he withheld National Guardsmen to protect lawmakers — and doubled down that he had said or done nothing wrong. There has been no Trump contrition.
Indeed, the drama in the House impeachment vote was how many Republicans would look at Trump inciting a coup attempt against the government he was supposed to lead and to sit on his hands as it was underway to call it all a crime.
In practical terms, however, continuing political loyalty and support among the Republican majority in the Senate means that the impeachment may just sit there, staining Trump’s name, but without a conviction. Without a conviction, they can’t bar Trump from seeking election again. Senate Republicans said they would not consider meeting before next week.
Trump will walk. He will finish his term. He will avoid any official sanction from the Congress against whom he launched armed insurgents. As things stand, he remains eligible to run again in four years.
In my view, impeachment was required. Even as the FBI and acting Atty. Gen. Jeffrey Rosen were going public with requests for the public to turn in Jan. 6 wrongdoers, Republicans were still trying to ignore Trump’s role.
But looking away remains wrong — despite voices about impeachment being ineffective for Trump as he is departing anyway. We live in a society in which we expect criminals and abusers to be held to account.
Of course, Trump faces more issues away from Congress. An incoming Justice Department next week can look at Trump’s acts in inciting a mob and find criminal responsibilities for someone no longer under presidential protection from investigation and charges. The Southern District of New York authorities and the state of New York can proceed with a passel of other criminal investigations, ranging from campaign fund violations to tax fraud.
Like in Al Capone’s case, the government may end up getting Trump on taxes rather than for crimes raised in a sedition conspiracy.
Living the Tragedy
“Boy, did Donald Trump blow it,” argued Molly Roberts in a Washington Post op-ed. “There he was, poised to gallop off into the sunset with his lost-cause mythology and his claims of a rigged election more or less intact.” Inciting an armed uprising at the Capitol changed that, far eclipsing any would-be achievements.
Donald Trump only saw Trump stock rising and falling in pandemic, in economics, in trade, in international relations and in election-related acts that neared and broke ethical and actual legal standards. But that shouldn’t have blinded the rest of us — including the Republicans in Congress who have chosen time after time to look away.
The Capitol attacks made Trump a criminal. The failure to act to protect Congress made Trump unfit for office. The insistence that he did nothing wrong, that impeachment was part of a long hoax and that he shouldn’t be impeached for inciting violence because doing so might prompt new violence was absurd — and evidence that he never cared about the fate of the nation, only himself.
Just how cockeyed things have become were epitomized by Republican attacks on Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., head of their own House caucus, who broke with the orthodoxy to cite the obvious truth of Trump’s disqualifications. Indeed her argument was concise and sharper than most: “The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of attack.”
Still, her defection and the apparent signal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he was open to impeachment brought ten Republican votes, but not a a flood to an officially bipartisan vote.
That the impeachment was widely perceived as partisan was reflected in Fox’s Fox & Friends comments that similar actions by a Democratic president would definitely result in impeachment.
Indeed, I was struck by a remark by Rep. Winston Coleman, D-NJ, who just tested positive for coronavirus after Republicans with whom she was kept in a Capitol bunker during the attack refused to wear proffered masks: “When I say that many Republicans are responsible for what happened to me, to others and to the country last week, I mean their essential failure to accept facts led us here,” adding that they were as blind to election results as to COVID risks.
Republican congressmen were even resisting newly installed metal detectors set up to keep Congress itself safer.
What’s the Message?
Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of California law professor often weighing in public disputes, noted in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that this impeachment is sending the wrong message as a rushed vote to punch rather than effectively to remove Trump from office.
But that is the whole point. Under other circumstances it might be a luxury to have a better-paced review of the Trump records of what he said and when — though Republican senators in last year’s impeachment trial refused to hear critical witnesses and evidence. Instead, last time, Republicans insisted that we leave judgment to the voters.
But we did that in November and Americans showed Trump to the exits. To all but Trump, to his mob swarming the Capitol and to party-bound Republican congressmen who have insisted on accepting a fantasy of fraud, it was rejection. Trumpists instead remained fixated on throwing out the results, even in the face of court decision, recounts and now an attempted insurrection towards overthrowing the Constitution. This week, instant polls, which are flawed measurement tools, showed that 55% of those polled supported impeachment, with 40% of identified Republicans still supporting Trump as a 2024 candidate. Our divisions persist.
While thy argued yesterday for “healing” and “unity,” Trumpists instead committed crimes that have ranged from extorting state officials to “find” votes, ignoring Constitutional law governing elections, and inciting and carrying out acts of domestic terrorism.
They need to stand to account for those crimes. The FBI is arresting hundreds identified by video to face charges. Lawyers and others in the obsession campaign are facing disbarment and possible charges. Trump should face up to his crimes as well.
Despite some of the arguments on the House floor, that is the real purpose of impeachment.