As expected, the Senate by a vote of 57 - 43 absolved Donald Trump of any responsibility for the deaths and destruction his supporters committed in their Jan. 6th attempt to overthrow democracy in America. Any reasonable person knows that the violent attack on the Capitol only happened because Trump’s ego could not accept his election loss.
Despite the fact that every state certified their election results as correct, every lawsuit alleging voter fraud was rejected by the courts, and even Trump’s attorney general saying that the Department of Justice found no voter fraud, Trump refused to stop stirring up anger in his supporters by promoting the “BIG LIE” that the election had been stolen from him.
It was also obvious that most Republican senators were not impartial jurors and did not take the trial seriously. Before the proceedings even started Senator Cramer, R-N.D., expressed his disdain for the trial saying “Welcome to the stupidest week in the Senate." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tweeted that he thought the charge that Trump incited an insurrection to overturn the election was “offensive and absurd.”
During the trial various Republican senators were seen reading books, doodling on notepads, refusing to look at videos, or just not paying attention. On the second day, 15 Republican senators didn’t even show up. Three of them (Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Lindsey Graham) were caught meeting with Trump’s defense team helping them to plot their strategy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that he was voting not guilty before the trial was even over. Jurors who exhibited this behavior in a normal court trial would be removed from the jury and probably face a penalty.
Elie Mystal in The Nation makes the important point that it was obvious that the Republicans would not convict Trump because many of them were complicit in the very crime they were now asked to judge. After the election Trump refused to concede, filed many failed lawsuits, told states that they must “find” more votes for him and not certify Biden wins. He continuously riled up his base with stolen election tweets. How did Republican legislators respond? They were complicit either by their silence or by actively supporting his lies.
Once the insurrection started Trump was the only person who could have stopped it. But if the Republicans in Congress would have had the courage to form a united front and refute his lies it never would have happened in the first place. Remember that even after experiencing the trauma of the insurrection 147 Republican senators and representatives still supported Trump’s big lie by voting to overturn the election results. It is a flaw in our Constitution that senators from the president’s own party are allowed as jurors in their president’s impeachment. Perhaps the framers thought that once elected, people would act honorably and put the interests of their country over their own political interests. The reality is most Republican senators did not have the strength of character to hold themselves accountable, which meant they could never hold Trump accountable.
Most senators who voted not to impeach also did so because they need the support of Trump’s base to be re-elected and didn’t want to anger them. They may excuse their not guilty vote by saying it is not constitutional to impeach once the person is out of office but most scholars disagree with that view. Some who voted “no” have presidential aspirations of their own and didn’t want to set a precedent that would limit their own behavior in the future. As one reporter asked, “What do you call a failed coup with no consequences?” The answer: “A training exercise so next time it will succeed.”
Roger Haglund lives in Moorhead.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.