St Valentine’s Day, 2021
Of course: former President Donald Trump should have been convicted yesterday.
The reasons for this are neatly summarised in this statement by one of the republican senators who voted to convict on impeachment:
My statement on today’s impeachment vote: pic.twitter.com/Hfk8yqToPr— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) February 13, 2021
If anything justified a conviction on impeachment, and thereby a disqualification from holding office again, then it was what happened on 6 January 2021.
Yet Trump was acquitted.
Whatever the reasons for his acquittal – and it is difficult to see anything other than hyper-partisanship as the motivation for those voting against conviction – the brute fact remains.
This impeachment failed to result in a conviction.
And so Donald Trump goes from being the only president of the United States to have been impeached twice to now also being the only president to have been acquitted twice.
Failure sucks, defeat sucks.
It was absolutely the right thing to do for the house of representatives to impeach Trump.
And nothing in this post should be taken to mean that it is somehow a good thing in and of itself that the trial on impeachment failed to obtain a conviction.
There is a silver lining.
An impeachment is and should be an exceptional thing – it means that an official (or former official) faces a sanction other than in the normal course of the operation of the constitution.
So, for an elected office holder, it means a sanction other than removal by means of the election cycle (or term limits).
And for a former elected office holder, disqualification means that he or she cannot be elected again, regardless of their popularity.
Impeachment and disqualification mean a thing so bad has happened that it should not just be left to the voters at the next election.
One problem, however, of Trumpism – that authoritarian nationalist populism for which some fairly would use the ‘F’ word – is that it would not have automatically have disappeared if there had been a conviction.
Trump and Trumpism are not going away.
Trumpism – and Trump himself – would have weaponised the conviction as a mere technicality – a Washington device to prevent Trump from standing again in four years’ time.
It would have been presented as – and no doubt widely seen as – an attempt to defeat Trump and Trumpism by non-electoral means.
A stab in the back.
Trump and Trumpism are not going to be defeated just by constitutional procedures.
Instead: Trump and Trumpism have to be defeated electorally, and be seen to be defeated electorally – and, if need be, this has to be done again, and again, and again.
Trump and Trumpism have to fail politically – and to keep on being seen to fail politically.
For it is in the nature of Trumpism that any other setback will be exploited as evidence that the ‘elite’ are somehow frustrating the supposed will of the people.
Of course, this is not easy – and Trumpists are are already ‘poisoning the wells’ by seeking to discredit the electoral system itself.
But they would not even have to resort to this if they could point to Trump’s exclusion from standing again by anything other than his own electoral unpopularity.
The failure to convict Trump – and thereby the failure to disqualify him from office – is a huge setback for liberal democracy.
But it is also an opportunity to electorally defeat him, and the horror for which he stands, all over again.
(And to aver this is a silver lining is certainly not to deny there is a dark cloud, for a dark cloud is always what any silver lining presupposes).
During the first part of the Trump presidency there was the tendency for some liberals and progressives to look at the Mueller investigation as a form of cavalry of knights who would ride in and save us from our distress.
While more hard-headed and worldly campaigners knew that the next election had to be won precinct by precinct, in the environs of Atlanta and elsewhere.
The reason for this lazy tendency was the political trick of mind that prefers the easy quick-wins of legal and legalistic processes, instead of the work of winning elections (and referendums) and defeating illiberals.
(A similar frame of mind in the United Kingdom led to some looking to the Electoral Commission and police investigations of Leave campaigns to save us from the result of the 2016 referendum.)
And although the complaint is often made of legal commentary on public affairs that it overlooks and underestimates the political element, often the reverse is true.
Laws and legal process are tools for certain tasks – but they are not a substitute for what should be left to politics and elections.
So: yes, the second impeachment of Trump should have ended with conviction – we all know this.
That is what impeachment is for.
Trump should have been held directly accountable for what he did and did not do on 6th January 2021.
He should have been held accountable.
But impeachment is not the only form of accountability.
There may be better and more effective ways to hold him and what he stands for accountable too.
And any defeat will then be all the more emphatic.
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