Impeachment Again: What You Need To Know

On Monday, the second Trump impeachment trial in the Senate is scheduled to begin.

(I know; just when you thought he was finally gone, right? Wrong. Trump is back in the headlines for another few weeks — and it’s a good thing for everyone. But more on that later. -Editor)

In order to prepare for the upcoming outcomes of these events, there are a few aspects of the proceedings that you should be aware of going into this so you can adjust your expectations. That way, there are few surprises and there will be little room for disinformation going forward. The proper correction for fake news is, after all, a strong infusion of the truth.

(Note: As with all ongoing events, even the best reporting is apt to get things wrong — and TNFN is a volunteer undertaking at best. As things progress, it’s likely that some corrections will need to be made; more to the point, some events are very likely to come as a surprise and require annotation. Therefore, in keeping with our usual practice in these instances, an ongoing diary of changes may be kept at the end of the article as needed. -Ed)

This Is Not A Show Trial.

Multiple Republican Senators have expressed, both privately and in public statements, that they are open to considering conviction. In Trump’s case, this will likely extend only to a ban on seeking public office in the future, including service on commissions or as a goodwill ambassador. It should be remembered that there was a strong movement among Senate Republicans to pursue exactly this course a year ago.

Having said that, a two-thirds majority is still required to convict, which means sixteen Republicans — assuming no Democrat votes against the party line, and there’s always a chance Joe Manchin (WV) for one will do precisely that. That’s a steeply uphill battle, if we’re only considering individuals; there are only five or six mavericks who consistently vote against the party line. Even adding in those who will not be seeking re-election and who are occasional Trump critics, such a vote appears unlikely on its face. As well, considering that forty-five are already on the record voting against the constitutionality of the proceeding as a whole, it may appear that the results are foreordained.

However, it’s important to remember that, for most Senators, this will be a political decision rather than a legal one; politicians are often swayed by public opinion, personal ambition, and above all a compulsion for press exposure. Anything can happen.

Both Sides Benefit From This Proceeding.

Democrats are planning to use this for momentum in the upcoming midterm elections. Every Republican Senator who votes in favor of Trump ties himself to the former President, whereas everyone voting against him will risk alienating a substantial number of their own supporters by so doing. From a political perspective, it would seem that Republicans can only lose, which must by default benefit Democrats.

However, it must be remembered that, for as long as this trial continues, the Senate will be compelled to devote a large percentage of its time to this rather than deliberations and debate. The appointments process, so vital to any new administration, will already be slowed by normal COVID precautions; now, at least half of each day will be devoted to other business than running the country. In a nation increasingly demanding economic and medical reform, universal basic income, and a true single-payer health insurance system, Democrats are running a strong risk of alienating their own base by endorsing inaction in favor of an act that seems to many to be little more than petty political vengeance.

As a result, Republicans may well benefit greatly by delaying and extending the trial as long as practicable. And, considering the upcoming Presidents Day recess, that could be quite some time.

Trump’s Defense Is Somewhat Reasonable.

(Full text of the defense response is archived here.)

The defense response argues against impeachment in several segments, not least of which being its constitutionality. The argument goes thus: Since Trump is no longer in office, the results of any impeachment trial is a moot point. In part this is actually true; he cannot be removed from an office he no longer holds. However, the prosecution argues — rather convincingly — that, since one type of penalty explicitly permitted is a permanent ban on holding public office, it would be absurd to say that anyone who might again plausibly seek such office is immune from prosecution. More to the point, since articles of impeachment were approved by the House while Trump actually was in office, this objection is itself likely moot.

(This assertion, in a document signed by Trump’s direct legal representatives, effectively eliminates any theory that Mr. Trump still holds the office of President in some secret or hidden form. Once presented to the Senate, there can be no question of the validity of Biden’s accession to the office of President on these grounds. I mention this because it’s a widely-held belief among certain groups — I hesitate to call them conspiracy theorists; our readers should understand — and it’s as well to dismiss that going forward. For all practical purposes, Trump is no longer President. -Editor)

Nevertheless, it would be difficult to interpret Mr. Trump’s words on the 6th of January as direct incitement to violence — at least inasmuch as would be required in a court of criminal law. The First Amendment defense here is not merely arguable but even reasonable. We could continue further into the details of the response, but this is in fact the crux of the matter.

Even considering that, however, it must be remembered: There is no minimum burden in a Senate trial, no regular court of appeal from their decision, and no special reason to believe that any random Senator would be swayed either by a matter of truth or of law.

The Charges Are Also Reasonable.

It is ludicrous to consider that reactionary elements on the paranoid Right fringe, those people who have been stockpiling arms and ammunition for decades against government overreach and tyranny, if presented with such an opportunity as the Capital Police granted on the afternoon of January 6th, could possibly have failed in any serious coup attempt against Congress. If the worst that penetrated the building was Florida Man and the Buffalo Shaman, it can be safely asserted that Congress was never in any real danger. We are fortunate that, by and large, fringe Republicans are staunch believers in the rule of law and the sanctity of our government; were they not, this may well have ended tragically.

But this is irrelevant; regardless of the severity of the danger, it is indisputable that, following an address by Mr. Trump, a protest spawned a violent mob which broke through barriers, assaulted police officers, and trespassed on the steps of the Capital; more, that certain members of this mob broke through doors and penetrated the building. People were killed — some perhaps accidentally, one at least of natural causes, one by a police officer. As such, this is a serious complaint, and one that, on its face, a reasonable person might accept.

And, as previously stated: There is no minimum burden in a Senate trial, no regular court of appeal from their decision, and no special reason to believe that any random Senator would be swayed either by a matter of truth or of law.

What To Expect:

Expect weeks of tedium and inactivity. There will be a dispute on Friday over whether the Senate can properly leave on their scheduled break, and there will be several procedural arguments over minor points that will appear immaterial. In the end, the verdict may appear for now to be a foregone conclusion; however, most Senators did not achieve their position by being politically naive. A conviction is certainly possible, but the odds are not great.

In a larger sense, however, the results actually are moot: Mr. Trump’s political influence has largely ended with his electoral defeat. America as a whole has tired of him; for four years, he has dominated our headlines and impinged on our daily thought. For most of us, that’s enough and more than enough.

As well, a political realist may well consider: A conviction would be a breath of hope for the Republican party. No longer bound to a known loser, new candidates would begin to rise from the mob, and the election of a young, vibrant, and possibly female Republican President in 2024, combined with reactionary wins in the House and Senate in 2022, would not be at all unlikely. In fact, it might even be argued that a Trumpian mea culpa after a long, drawn-out proceeding would be the worst possible political result for the Democrats moving forward — especially considering that protests by the fringe Left are even now continuing across the country.

Time will tell.

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