New Republic - February 7, 2020
"Last week, on the very same day that Senate Republicans voted down an effort to bring in relevant witnesses and documents, the Trump administration announced the addition of six new countries to its existing roster of nations facing travel and immigration restrictions, including Nigeria—the most populous nation in Africa, whose immigrants Trump has denigrated in private. Nigerians, he told officials early in his administration, would never “go back to their huts” upon entering the United States."
For reasons well beyond the antics of Trump himself, this has already been one of the most frustrating weeks of the Trump era. In the headlines, the ongoing fracas in Iowa has managed to overtake not only Tuesday’s State of the Union address but the Senate’s historic vote Wednesday to acquit President Trump on both of the articles of impeachment House Democrats drew up against him. The gravity of what technically could have occurred that afternoon—Trump’s immediate removal from office—was undercut considerably by the certainty of Trump’s acquittal. Still, it’s worth thinking clearly about precisely what happened: A president unambiguously guilty of clear abuses of power was cleared by a Senate controlled by the members of his own party, who collectively represent a minority of the American public.
Some have said in the wake of the vote that both Trump and future presidents will be newly empowered by the acquittal, with the Senate having established a precedent that any conduct, no matter how corrupt, is permissible provided there are 34 senators of the president’s party willing to look the other way. But this is a description of the reality that’s already in place rather than a preview of a new world now unfolding: Trump’s acquittal for offenses against the Constitution was a travesty that the Constitution made possible.
For years now, pundits and observers have debated the utility of pursuing the impeachment of Donald Trump. Given the likelihood of an acquittal, Trump’s victory, it was casually supposed, would inflict a significant political cost on the Democratic Party. It already feels safe to say that these risks were dramatically overstated. President Trump’s approval rating, as averaged by FiveThirtyEight, hasn’t appreciably moved since the impeachment process began and sits roughly where it was before the 2018 midterms. Democrats haven’t suffered on the generic ballot, either, and, critically, a majority of the American public backed impeachment and removal, with much of the surge in support occurring just after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement of the inquiry. It remains reasonable to assume that shift, driven mostly by Democrats, was not the product of Democrats immediately deciding for the first time last fall that Trump deserved removal from office, but of loyal Democrats receiving the word from party leadership that impeachment was the right move, substantively and strategically.
And it was. Beyond the party’s formal obligation to hold Trump accountable, the impeachment process delivered new information to the public about Trump’s misconduct in office, energized Democratic activists, and put vulnerable Republican incumbents like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner, both of whom voted to acquit Trump, in a tight bind. There remains no real reason to believe the same wouldn’t have been true if the Democrats had chosen to offer a few more articles of impeachment on scandals ranging from the obstructions of justice detailed in the Mueller Report and Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause, to his participation in criminal financial fraud for a cover-up of the Stormy Daniels scandal and his alleged promises to pardon officials who broke laws to facilitate the construction of the border wall. One of the major arguments against a broader impeachment was that it would have sidelined discourse on the material concerns of American voters and the very worst aspects of Trump’s governance. But Trump’s crimes and Trump’s policies are difficult to meaningfully cleave apart—compartmentalization leaves the political realities underpinning both poorly understood. ...
Read full commentary at New Republic