The spotlight will not be soft, it will be blinding. And the evidence will be clear—captured in 21st Century reality—tweets, videos and speeches all captured digitally, which means forevermore. History, not another political poll, will weigh actions.
The official record will go well beyond the evidence. Arguments will be made and this will not be a Sunday morning edition of Meet The Press. The arguments will be about the Constitution and about thresholds of behavior. Not about fiscal probity or taxes or abortion. When, it will be asked, is it not impeachable for the certified loser in a Presidential election to ask supporters to march, not on Washington, but in revolt on a Constitutional procedure to certify an election in the Capitol?
The voters, the elite 100, United States Senators all, will function not so much as jurors but as reflections of who we and they are. This will be easy for Democrats—they will all scream guilty. It is the Republicans who will have to decide between the broad gauge of history or the narrow gauge of political passion.
I have been ambivalent about the second stage of impeachment because America has new leadership and they have much to do and need to be measured as their nominations, plans and actions unfold. But, now that up or down will be a reality, it is a good test for the 50 Senators that sit on the Republican side of the aisle.
They should ask, what is the Republican Party? Does it still reflect, at least in some respect, the values of its founder, Abraham Lincoln, or its notables Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan or just the frothy passions and tumult of a raucous four years?
Editors at The Federalist, translate the prevailing question to politics, characterizing a vote to convict as, for Republicans, an act of “political suicide”.
The Federalist is walking along a trench well traveled; its sides have become steep and it takes some real strength to even try a path less travelled. Everything, and I mean everything, in Washington gets translated into “is it good for Republicans or Democrats in the next election?”. What about using the Constitution and the moral values that informed it as the gauge in this historic moment?
So, we will all be watching. We will be living room jurors. Conviction or no is on the table. Will we weigh the evidence or have we prejudged it? Is there a line—a line on the other side of which conduct should be punished? If there is no line then why is there a provision for impeachment? What is the more repugnant in a Democracy, stealing money or attempting to steal an election? Make no mistake, this vote will be definitional for some time to come.
Lines, of course, are drawn by people who come to the definition with some prejudices. I can say without question that if Trump was a Democrat, the line drawn would not even be close on the Republican side. And if that is true and if this is a historic, not just another political vote, then we, citizens and Senators alike, should all be careful because the vote is not about the man (he is already out of office), but about the precedent.
When Senators explain their vote their words should be elevated above campaign rhetoric. Were various Democrats underhanded in associating Trump with a Russian collusion narrative? Yes, but that question is not before the Senate; the influence of the Russian collusion allegations was determined in the last election. The question before the United States Senate was precipitated by the assault on the Capitol and events implicating the President that led to that rebellion.
The penultimate poll on the impeachment of Donald J. Trump has been taken. On the Republican side, only ten Members in the House of Representatives found Trump’s actions impeachable. Most of the arguments against impeachment sounded like a continuation of the political campaign. Of course the Senate, with a lofty self-regard, believes one of its important tasks is to cool the passions of the House—to seek wisdom, not to rubber-stamp the other assembly. We’ll see.
The political campaign ended on November 3, 2020. Arguments, investigations, and court decisions followed concluding that President Biden won. So the question now is about inciting insurrection. All in favor?
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.