Lamar Alexander is a Republican senator from Tennessee heading for retirement. His last decision, the one perhaps to be memorialized on his tombstone, was voting against calling witnesses for the president’s impeachment trial in the US Senate.
More accurately, Alexander’s final act was doing his friend, Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, a big favor. With his vote, Collins, unpopular and facing reelection, could safely vote yes. She can now campaign at home with her moderate reputation intact.
If his illegitimacy wasn’t certain before the Senate’s acquittal, it will be certain afterward.
With this vote, expected later today, the Senate Republicans will have acquitted the president of two articles of impeachment without hearing first-hand accounts from administration officials, subpoenaing new records, and entering new evidence. The Senate will have neutered itself as an effective check on executive power. It will have declared its complicity in covering up Donald Trump’s conspiracy against the people.
But it has done more. It has unleashed a president already dramatically unhinged. Trump welcomed foreign sabotage in 2016. He demanded it for 2020. Make no mistake: he’ll get it. As Nancy Pelosi said: “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.”
Worse, Trump will be emboldened to act with even more impunity. By acquitting Trump, the Senate will have established a precedent by which a president can do whatever he wants, because his interests are now one with the national interest. If that means investigating political opponents, so be it. It that means jailing them, fine.
He’s doing it for the people.
It’s difficult to imagine what Dear Leader the Unlimited might do. We have some inkling, though. Trump praised Saudi Arabia after it literally butchered a Washington Post columnist. The press, to this president, is the enemy of the people. Since the people’s interests are the same as his interests, and vice versa, what’s stopping an authoritarian president from following suit and making his problems just “go away?”
After all, he’s doing it for the people.
The Senate will clear Trump today but it will not have exonerated him. As Pelosi said, exoneration demands a legitimate process of deliberation—a due process that’s being denied. “He will not be acquitted,” she said. “You cannot be acquitted if you don’t have a trial. And you don’t have a trial if you don’t have witnesses and documentation.”
Because they denied the nation a legitimate process of deliberation, Republican Senators increased their burden many times over. As I wrote recently, the drip-drip-drip of incriminating evidence will not stop with acquittal. It will continue in ways we can’t predict. Every senator who voted to shield Trump from accountability will have to prove day after exhausting day that they were right. As Rahm Emanuel put it today, they have burdened themselves with becoming Trump’s “full-time exonerators.”
Another consequence of denying due process is that even if Trump wins the election in November, he will not be seen by a majority of Americans as a legitimate president. That was already the case for lots of people due to his losing the popular vote in 2016. That will pale, however, compared to knowing that he’s guaranteed to cheat in 2020. (Even if he didn’t cheat, which is unlikely, who would believe him but GOP partisans?) If his illegitimacy wasn’t certain before the Senate’s acquittal, it will be afterward.
Lest there be any doubt, the president will prove the point when he tries to get even. You know he will. Trump is widely known for returning insults at ten times the original force. The Democrats wounded his ego the moment they impeached him. Acquittal without exoneration can’t stop the bleeding. He’s going to find a way of seeking vengeance and when that too is exposed, it will add to the incriminating evidence and political illegitimacy that will trail Senate Republicans till November.
Illegitimacy doesn’t mean, of course, that a president can’t do great damage. Trump has already done so much already I don’t need to enumerate each injury. That’s why it’s so important for the Democratic Party to compete hard to take control of the Senate. Fortunately, the Republicans have given them a gigantic vise with which to squeeze incumbents between loyalty to the president and duty to the Constitution.
The best way we can fight back is making sure the House stays in Democratic hands (which I think it will) and flipping the Senate. The president will seek revenge, and he will commit impeachable and criminal acts in the process. Once those, and all the others, come to light, the stage will be set for a second round of impeachment.
Published with permission of The Editorial Board. Subscribe.