I’m not sure I have much to say on the second impeachment of former President Donald Trump. But this feels like one of those moments in history that we’ll be reliving and coming back to for decades to come. So I feel compelled to set down a few thoughts.
I think it’s important to understand this second impeachment in the light of the last few months. Since the election, Trump and many Republicans have questioned the integrity of the election and repeated the ‘big lie’ that Trump somehow won, without presenting any evidence of widespread voter fraud. Pushing that lie led directly to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol where five people died and something like 150 police officers were injured.
A little more than a month removed, I’m still not sure we appreciate the magnitude of what happened. And given the Republicans who encouraged that mob, I think we’ll be wrestling with it for quite some time.
My thought is that the impeachment of Donald Trump was a necessary but clearly doomed affair. With Republicans still refusing to challenge Trump and hold him accountable, there’s no way they would vote to convict him. I’m impressed seven Republicans did join the Democrats and vote to impeach. 57 is still 10 short of the necessary two-thirds. It’s a bold repudiation of Trump, but it’s not enough.
There are a lot of interesting questions and intricacies to this impeachment:
- Why impeach after Trump has left office? Well, technically the House impeached before he left office. The Republican-controlled Senate opted to wait until Trump left office. And at that point it’s still important because you have to hold a president accountable for these actions.
- Why no witnesses? I don’t know. The day before the final vote more stories were coming out about Trump’s refusal to call in the National Guard and that he knew exactly how dangerous things were. There’s a lot of political calculation to the trial, and some of it has to do with getting it over with and focusing on Biden’s agenda. I’m not entirely sure I know the best way forward, but in the light of history if it took a week or three weeks seems of little consequence. Getting it right is what matters.
- What is Trump guilty of? Perhaps the biggest question. First of all, it’s important to remember that impeachment is a political process. It’s not a typical trial like we see in the justice system. So the norms and procedures of a trial do not apply. Likewise, it’s not about guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s not about meeting the exact definition of a criminal act. “High crimes and misdemeanors means whatever the House of Representatives decides it means.” It’s about holding a president accountable for actions against the interests of the republic. So in my mind, it’s foolishness to argue that Trump literally planned and instructed the insurrectionists. We don’t have evidence of that. But it is clear that Trump incited and fueled those insurrectionists. He invited people to the theater and then cried fire. That seems clear to me, but what is perhaps an even simpler reason to convict is that once the insurrection happened, Trump failed to act. This is the most clearly damning thing.
So what do we make of all this? I don’t know.
Republicans are going to have an interesting four years as they figure out who is going to run in 2024. I would have thought the smart move would be to vote to convict, get the ‘big lie’ behind them, and ban Trump from holding office again. But many Republicans see the Trump wing of the party as too strong and too influential. Seems disastrous to me, that they risk huge loses to Democrats as never-Trumpers and moderate conservatives peel away.
But what do I know?
It’s been interesting personally having just written a book about creating better politics and finding ways to bring people together. And then we have this sequence of events that has served to divide people more than I thought possible.
I don’t know what we do about that.
The one bit of hope I have is the work of Braver Angels. They are finding ways to bring people together and help them to have productive dialogue, even when they disagree. I think their workshops should be required for elected officials.