On Wednesday afternoon, our national crisis came to an end as the impeachment saga finally drew to a close. It ended, as predicted, with the acquittal of President Trump in the Senate, with the votes split nearly along party lines. Republicans are boasting that the verdict is vindication for the President, and that these charges were just another episode of the “Witch-hunt” that has dogged Trump since he was elected. Democrats meanwhile are increasingly bemoaning the unfair and rigged process and the feckless Republicans, insisting this is the end of the republic.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. Obviously, the process wasn’t rigged, and the Senate majority using its constitutionally granted powers the way it sees fit is by no means the end of the republic; on the contrary, the constitution worked precisely as designed. The House impeached the President with its constitutional powers, and the Senators acquitted the President exercising theirs.
This certainly doesn’t vindicate what the President likes to refer to as his “perfect call” — the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which President Trump pressured him to look into the Bidens. What it does mean is that the majority of U.S. senators are of the same party as the president, and they would never vote against their own interests, especially since most of their constituents — 90% at last count — oppose removing the President.
In other words, they voted as they should have voted. It’s simply nonsensical to expect people to vote in an impeachment trial not only against their party’s leader but against their constituents’ desires.
This is the case not least because an impeachment trial is not a criminal trial. The founders were intentionally vague when it came to defining what constituted an impeachable offense. Some crimes are impeachable, but not all; meanwhile, something doesn’t have to be a crime to be determined to be counted as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Crucially, in an impeachment trial, even if the President is guilty of what he’s being charged with by the House, the Senate can decide that these acts aren’t sufficient grounds for conviction and subsequent removal.
The only question at stake in President Trump’s impeachment trial should have been whether the quid pro quo the President engaged in should have warranted his removal from office. This is a subjective question that each senator needed to answer for herself. Deciding that what Trump did was wrong but not worthy of removal is hardly the end of the republic; it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw.
And I think it was the right one. Removal of a president through impeachment is such a drastic step that it should only happen in extremely rare circumstances. It should not depend on whether the President used his office for personal gain. It shouldn’t even hinge on whether the act in question was a crime or not. Although President Clinton did commit perjury and obstruction of justice, the Senate did the right thing by acquitting him. To me, the only time a President should be removed from office other than if she’s committed outright treason if her actions are so offensive and outside the norm that she loses the publics’ trust, even the trust of her voters.
In these hyper-partisan times, such a scenario does seem farfetched. I believe, however, that in a clear cut case, the people’s confidence would erode to such a level that impeachment and removal would be unavoidable.
Removing a President should only be done if the country could no longer function properly without his departure. The best example of this would be Richard Nixon. He began his second term with a 68% approval rating, but at the time of his resignation, it hovered around 24%.
And while the President himself is responsible for much of this polarization, the Democrats haven’t helped any. Impeachment rhetoric was the motto of prominent Democrats since the day of President Trump’s election. Had they refrained from doing so, the outrage over his actions in Ukraine would have been much more significant and might have put a lot more pressure on Republicans in Congress to consider voting against acquitting the President. Constant hyperventilating over every one of Trump’s moves, some deserved and others not so much, have numbed the public to his shenanigans.
The President did abuse his office to get dirt on a political opponent. Such behavior is unacceptable and should be roundly condemned. But this wasn’t treason, nor did it result in a change of the publics’ perception of him. In fact, the public opinion of Trump has risen since the start of the impeachment hearings. Yesterday Gallup released a poll showing that Trump’s approval ratings are at 48%, the high water mark for him since his election.
Had the Senate voted were to remove Trump from office, it would have looked like another partisan stunt. Instead of healing the country, it would only have done more harm to it.
What we had with Congress’s impeachment and the Senate’s acquittal was actually the best of both worlds. Because in truth, Donald Trump did have to face consequences for his brazen disregard for the Office of the President and his misdeeds in the hunt for dirt on the Bidens, and a mere censure by the House or Senate would have been laughable to him. And yet, removing the President from Office would have been too severe. As Nancy Pelosi has said numerous times, even if the Senate acquits President Trump, the President’s impeachment will still exist forever in the history books and a stain on his Presidency.
The impeachment and subsequent acquittal of Donald Trump was actually quite the elegant solution for this matter. He is only the third President in the nation’s history to be impeached. Even though he’s been acquitted, that asterisk is quite a fitting punishment for the President’s actions.
The impeachment process was win-win