Some Democrats have argued that because most Senate Republicans are unlikely to vote "guilty" in former President Donald Trump's forthcoming impeachment trial, they shouldn't spend a lot of time talking about impeachment — which, according to the argument, is a distraction from President Joe Biden's agenda and his important work on COVID-19, the U.S. economy and Obamacare. But Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor at the Washington Post, has a very different perspective. In an op-ed published on February 2, Marcus stresses that the trial — whatever its outcome — won't be a waste of time and that Trump's egregious "abuses" and "misconduct" must be addressed.
Following the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol Building by far-right extremists, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Trump for "incitement to sedition" — making him the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. And Trump will also be the first ex-president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office.
"The Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump promises to be an event entirely lacking in suspense," Marcus observes. "The verdict seems clear before the first words have been uttered; Trump will be acquitted because not enough Republicans will vote to make up the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. This disappointing reality does not mean the trial will be a waste of time or even counterproductive. To the contrary, as the House prosecutors' brief filed Tuesday underscored, the magnitude of Trump's misconduct requires that the Senate proceed regardless of the outcome."
Some Senate Republicans are claiming that because Trump is no longer president, the U.S. Senate lacks the authority to hold an impeachment trial. But according to Marcus, that argument is nonsense.
"In the eyes of history, Trump's acquittal will convict those who failed to summon the courage to find him guilty," Marcus explains. "The dodge that the Senate lacks jurisdiction is just that — a dodge, a procedural escape hatch to avoid the politically perilous but morally essential duty to declare that Trump's crusade to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power constituted the ultimate high crime."
Marcus praises conservative Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming for "bravely" voting in favor of Trump's impeachment and saying that Trump, "summoned this mob, assembled the mob and lit the flame of this attack."
According to Cheney, "Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the president. The president could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution."
Cheney, Marcus writes, is absolutely right — and Trump's "abuses" cannot be ignored.
"The seriousness of the offense mandates that the Senate not merely drop the matter," Marcus emphasizes. "What Trump did should be set out for all to see and judge — and for the senators to render their individual, recorded verdicts."
When they vote to acquit Trump, some Republican senators will no doubt argue that they are doing so not because they condone his actions or the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building, but because they don't have the authority to convict a former president for an article of impeachment. Truth be told, however, their "not guilty" vote will stem from the fact that they are terrified of Trump's MAGA base and don't want to experience what Cheney is experiencing.
Cheney, according to Marcus, wasn't afraid to put her country over her political party — and Senate Republicans should do the same.
"Acquittal, even if it is based on jurisdictional grounds, risks legitimizing Trump's conduct, setting a precedent detrimental to the rule of law," Marcus warns. "Conviction, if it were somehow miraculously to occur, would risk turning him into a martyr, allowing him to claim that he was persecuted by political enemies even after he was out of office. Dropping the matter would be worse. It would represent an enormous collective shrug at Trump's abuses."