Senate Acquittal Would Mean More Division
NOTE: This piece was written for publication on Feb 2, 2 2021
When Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) challenged the constitutionality of the impeachment trial in a procedural vote last week, he opened by saying, “This impeachment is nothing more than a partisan exercise designed to further divide the country…. [It] is the antithesis of unity.” Aside from the fact the senator spent very little time actually arguing against the trial’s constitutionality, his assertion was dangerous, tone deaf, and could not be further from the truth.
A vote in the Senate to acquit former President Trump of his role in the January 6 riots would not be a move toward unity; it would deepen divisions and signal the turbulence of what’s to come. So long as Trump is eligible to run for president, and so long as Trumpism has a viable political heartbeat, the threat of violence and disruption will continue because those supporters who bow to violence can hold out hope.
Forty-four other senators joined with Senator Paul in seeking to dismiss the trial and, with a two-thirds majority required to convict the former president, this prompted the Senator to say the articles of impeachment were, “dead on arrival.”
For the sake of our nation’s future, let us hope that’s not the case.
Let me pause and make one point clear: Trump must be judged on the merits of the impeachment article lobbied against him. Each senator must decide whether they believe Donald Trump is guilty of “incitement of insurrection” related to the January 6 riots. Nevertheless, to view the implications of that judgment in a vacuum, without a consideration for how they may impact our country going forward, would be naïve.
Rumors have run amok that Donald Trump may decide to run again in 2024, and if it’s not him, then it could be Ivanka or Donald Jr, or another Trump-endorsed candidate jumping onto the coattails of his support. In fact, the former president is already making moves. Barely a week out of office, Trump met with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to discuss helping Republicans retake Congress in 2022.
Whether he is in the front seat or the back seat, Trump’s acquittal in the Senate would ensure that Trumpism remains at the center of Republican politics for the foreseeable future. It would ensure that the clamor and rancor that goes hand-in-hand with Trumpism is a constant undercurrent to a country desperately in need of recovery, and it could allow the former president to launch a campaign to frustrate and undercut the efforts of the Biden administration. In essence, Trump could have all the tools at his disposal to offer de facto leadership to the Trump faithful in a manner that distorts the achievements of the actual president and positions Trumpism as the only solution.
Now, convicting Trump is not the be-all and end-all antidote to a continued period of tumultuous division, but it can go a long way in ensuring that the most disruptive and provocative figure of the past four years is significantly quelled. It can allow both parties to move on, clear in the knowledge of one key fact: that Donald Trump cannot run for office again. The two parties will then be able to engage with one another on a bilateral basis, without the need to appease the bombastic and unpredictable outbursts of the former president. They can get to work on the real concerns of the country in a unified manner: a bipartisan COVID relief package, comprehensive economic recovery, as well as issues such as climate change and strengthening the nation’s infrastructure.
As long as Trump is in the picture, those negotiations and discussions will remain fraught because Republicans will always be checking their backs to see how their actions fare in the eyes of the former President. Moreover, they will remain beholden to a man who has made his name on division, profiting from the anger he has stewed. If that is the case, they will only have themselves to blame.
So to the Senate Republicans who are contemplating acquittal, they must consider this: acquitting Trump means a near-future where he remains a core force in the Republican party. It likely means a 2022 mid-term election cycle complete with unpredictable Trumpism, and a 2024 Republican presidential primary where his influence is in full swing. With that comes the possibility of more bloodshed and violent rhetoric. Those senators must think on the future they are sowing. Acquitting Trump risks enabling further abandon and subjugating our political arena to more of the same. That is not a call for unity.