It is over now. In the 241 year history of the United States there have only been three impeachment trials of a president. The impeachment of Donald J. Trump ended just as expected, with his acquittal by the United States Senate. The Senators sat as jurors but heard no live witnesses and read no documentary evidence other than that gathered by the House of Representatives. That was a marked departure from all other impeachment trials in the Senate.
What have we learned? We have learned that our government process has devolved into one where only party loyalty and raw political power counts. The House, with the Democrats in the majority, did not allow Republicans to call witnesses. The Senate, with the Republicans in the majority, blocked witnesses and documents and considered voting to “dismiss” the charges without even allowing the House managers to present their case.
We have also learned that the president is immune from impeachment as long as his political party controls at least one house of Congress. He is also immune from any oversight, free to spend funds as he sees fit even if his actions are in defiance of laws passed by Congress and signed by him, and free to ignore Congressional requests, even in subpoena form, for any documents or testimony.
In sum we have reached the stage where we have a president who has all the powers of an absolute monarch, save for the fact that he must win election and then reelection by the Electoral College. In that scheme neither the legislative nor the judicial branch are necessary.
There were a couple of unexpected moments in the impeachment proceedings. Utah Republican Mitt Romney voted to convict Trump on one of the two articles of impeachment. And West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, representing a very Republican state and thought to be learning toward acquittal, stood with his fellow Democrats and voted to convict on both articles. Their acts deprived Trump of his ability to claim a bipartisan acquittal or a unanimous display of loyalty by Republicans.
When President Bill Clinton was acquitted by the Senate in 1999 following his impeachment by the House, he addressed the nation with a contrite apology. Those who expected something similar a move toward healing from Trump, I’m thinking of you Susan Collins, Republican Senator from Maine, were shown to be fools. Again.
Trump’s dance of vindication and retribution began the day before the final vote. Delivering the state of the union address to a joint session of Congress, Trump pointedly refused to shake the hand of the Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California. After his address, during which he was in full political rally mode, Pelosi pointedly torn up her copy of the speech.
The day after the vote Trump attended the National Prayer Breakfast. Trump spoke after an opening call for unity and promptly announced that he could not agree with the lead speaker. He then went into a tirade of attacks on his political opponents, including Speaker Pelosi, who was also seated on the dais.
Trump then adjourned to the White House, where he staged a full blown campaign event, the audience made up of the people who had fought favorably in his defense. The rant was wall to wall a recitation of false claims of success covering events of his first three years in office. And ad hominem attacks on his perceived opponents, including many of the core institutions of the government itself. The broadcast news media, itself a target of Trump’s vitriol, covered it as if it were a news conference.
Trump finished the week with a little score setting and bloodletting. Trump threw Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman off the National Security Council. Vindman, an expert on Ukraine, had testified during the House impeachment hearings. An active duty soldier, the Purple Heart winner will be reassigned. Trump also recalled Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Sondland, a political appointee who bought his post by giving one million dollars to Trump’s first campaign, also testified before the House committee.
Trump also dismissed Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman from the NSC. Yevgeny Vindman is a lawyer and the only reason he drew Trump’s ire appears to be the fact that he is Alexander’s twin brother. Both Vindmans were marched out of the White House by security officers, just like you expel an employee you have found stealing from the petty cash drawer.
Of course the Tweeter-in- Chief, who seems to have time to write scores of “Tweets” at all hours of the day and night, argues that all of these people were inadequate performers. His syncopates have defended all these actions, noting that a president’s staff serves at the president’s pleasure. That may be true but the civil rights violations here just beg for lawsuits.
For many people commenting on what has become of our government, it is a sad day. But one need only to have watched Trump’s rambling disoriented performances on camera to realize that this has been the game plan all along. Better articulated by Trump’s Svengali Steve Bannon on the Bill Maher HBO show, this is the destruction of what they call the “deep state.” Others call it the destruction of our federal government and the rise of totalitarianism.