The failure of Republicans in the U.S. Senate to convict former president Donald Trump of obvious impeachable conduct will forever stain their records and reputations. Whatever else they do or have done that might be considered admirable, they will be -- and should be -- defined by that single vote: a spineless decision to give a pass to a criminal sociopath who violated his oath of office by inciting the insurrection of January 6 at the U.S. Capitol, and doing nothing to stop it as he watched it escalate into violence, terror and death.
The senators’ reasoning for doing the wrong thing is a sham. Despite the overwhelming weight of legal scholarship to the contrary, they reached for a wet tissue of faux constitutional cover: that it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who was out of office. If that’s the case -- and it is not -- then any president can in fact be guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and get away with it if the offenses occur in the last weeks of his/her presidency. By that opportunistic flimflam, the bedrock doctrine that “no one is above the law” is little more than low-grade gravel.
The seven Republican senators who put the country and Constitution ahead of fealty to a corrupt former president, and voted to convict, win high praise. They are suffering political consequences in their states, but censure by Trumpkin cultists cannot diminish the senators’ patriotism and fortitude. They got it right, knowing the fallout would be harsh.
The others -- among them North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven -- win high condemnation. Blithely ensconced on the wrong side of history, they have been Trump lackeys since the day he waltzed down the glitzy staircase at Trump Tower in New York City, signally early on that the only thing he cared about was loyalty to him at any cost. And like sheep -- or was it lemmings? -- Cramer and Hoeven adapted to the “at any cost” factor in the Trump loyalty equation, thus signing on to normalizing indecency, an epidemic of lies, and the damaging incompetence that characterized the Trump blight. They got it wrong, opting to set aside virtue and integrity for the sake of staying on the duplicitous president’s good side, apparently not realizing that he has no good side.
Their wrongheaded impeachment votes and their reluctance to criticize Trump when he tried to undermine the nation’s voting systems and overturn certified election results should not surprise. They were in the accidental president’s thrall from the start. Hoeven failed the character test when it came to Trump. Hoeven’s pusillanimous choices exposed the expediency of going along to get along. Cramer, on the other hand, has a deplorable record of unprincipled boot-licking in order to advance his political ambitions. Ethical conduct? Moral standards? Alien concepts to Cramer for most of his public life. His “friends” among North Dakota Republicans privately confirm as much.
Nothing here in the way of profiles in courage. Rather, it has been a contemptible demonstration of profiles in hypocrisy, profiles in cowardice, profiles in shame. If that’s what the “North Dakota way” has become, we are in deep trouble.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.