Democrats Will Pay for Letting Trump Off the Hook Again
The country was ready to see him finally held to account. Democrats failed to do that.
Democrats made a huge mistake Saturday in cutting a last-minute deal not to call witnesses at the impeachment trial of Donald Trump after a handful of Republicans voted to allow them to do so. The country will pay a steep price for that political miscalculation.
The failure to conduct a full impeachment trial was an insult to the majority of Americans who wanted to see Donald finally held to account for the damage he has done to the United States. Instead, a second acquittal sets the stage for the resurgence of Donald Trump and his nexus of domestic terrorism and disinformation as his reenergized cult is poised to wreak further damage to law and order in America.
Witness testimony and corroboration could have brought to life the emotional documentary evidence that the House managers presented and provided more irrefutable public education about Trump’s violation of our democracy. Moreover, Trump’s team was utterly unprepared for a rigorous trial, and extending that by getting congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler to testify about the incriminating evidence she’d volunteered could have led more dominoes to fall, perhaps even including more Republican votes to convict.
It may be that Trump’s acquittal was inevitable, but by refusing to fully establish his guilt in the public record Democrats failed to extinguish the forces that terrorized the country on Jan. 6. An ongoing trial would have reinforced the contrast between Trump’s injury to America and Biden’s restoration of public health.
The narrative of Trump’s culpability needed to be made permanent to ensure that his seditionist politics don’t gain new traction. Instead, he will now boast about being the only twice-acquitted president.
Democrats do have one final move at their disposal in using the 14th Amendment to bar Trump from future office by a simple majority vote in both chambers, but so far they don’t appear inclined to do so and, instead, appear willing to leave open the deep anti-democratic wound of the Trump presidency.
While Michael Tomasky argues smartly that a 1/6 Commission could eventually force an accounting, an active and ongoing roster of witnesses—and the prospect of Trump’s disqualification from federal office—should have been the foundation for restoring confidence in our democracy and future accountability.
And with the trial over, it guarantees that Biden’s policies—not Trump’s wrongdoings—will become front-and-center for a politician whose governing-in-the-weeds low-key public style works best. Having Trump as a shadow villain for however much longer would not have been a bad thing.
The case that got Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock elected in Georgia on Jan. 5 was about the future viability of our democracy and franchise—as well as our health and economic security. Voters there had punished Republicans for Trump’s Big Lie even before the onslaught of Jan. 6. Voters across the country will punish Democrats who don’t stand up to protect democracy in 2022.
And Democrats will have to reckon with a Trump who can now not only incite further domestic violence but be the organizing arm of fascism. The failure to conduct an appropriately sized trial ensures that his American authoritarianism will live on. Trump will surface on Fox News in days, if not hours, while Biden doesn’t even have an attorney general installed yet to mount a robust counter-extremism agenda.
Resuscitated politically by acquittal, Trump and his allies will relaunch their Authoritarianism First agenda with ferocity. A meaningfully long trial, no matter the final outcome, would have done more damage to Trump than this quick cleaning of hands. In the largest national public platform they could ever have, Democrats decided to move on and failed to deliver the total accountability voters expected when they gave the party control of the House, Senate and White House in 2020. Those voters won’t forget that in 2022.