By Jacob Vito
There have only ever been three presidents in the history of the United States that have been impeached. It’s a rare sign given to presidents who have, in some way, significantly failed the country. However, an additional caveat was added to such a list: for the first time in American history––a president has been impeached twice.
Following an assertion of its constitutionality in the legislature this week, the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump has begun. As CNN reports, the initial 56-44 vote led to the beginning of the impeachment trial process, with both sides fielding arguments and a final Senate vote in the days to come.
According to the Washington Post, such a trial responded to Trump’s spreading of misinformation and violence over the recent months. This includes his dismissal of the results of the 2020 election and his encouragement of the Capitol insurrection in January.
Notably, the trial’s focus lies in how Trump has attempted to use misinformation to further his own political ambition and potentially overturn Biden’s victory in November. However, it is critical to understand the most likely outcomes of such a trial.
Make no mistake: Trump will not be impeached from this. The Democratic Party barely has a majority in the Senate, and it would require over a dozen Republicans to betray their own organization and vote to serve a conviction. There is no world in which Mitch McConnell ever lets that happen.
Because of that fact, the outcomes of this trial are inherently limited. However, that still leaves a fundamental question open: why is this seriously taking place?
Some have argued that the impeachment will stop a potential second term from him. Frankly, Trump will never hold office again regardless of whether or not he is impeached. The man is already 74, and with what seems to be less-than-great health, he may not even be fit to campaign come next election season.
Such factors are also combined with his legacy as one of the most divisive presidents in history. This will not allow his potential voters the same cautious optimism they had when he won in 2016. He is a known entity, and he is not well-liked.
What’s more, the potential impact of this is minimal. Though the New York Times may argue that an impeachment trial may serve as a blow to Trump’s accountability and legacy, the first impeachment the former president went through did not seem to impede his agenda nor change peoples’ minds about him. Why would an additional failed impeachment attempt be any different?
Not to mention, those who supported Trump’s insurrection attempt will receive no punishment from this trial. Regardless of whether or not he was the president, a single person claiming a rigged election does not mean much.
What gave Trump’s claims power were the many Republican legislators who corroborated his falsified statements and spread further misinformation. Without seeking some way to punish them, Congress gravely misunderstands the reasons why this event grew to the magnitude it did.
So, with the identifiable causes for this attempted impeachment conviction being either pointless, unlikely or ineffective, precisely what purpose does another impeachment trial serve?
In short, it is politically useful for Donald Trump to remain a relevant enemy.
It’s tough to make a political movement that is “for” something in America. Holding such positions requires creating a distinct vision that historically doesn’t garner a broad base of support. Instead, it’s far simpler to make a campaign that is simply a reaction to the government that came before it.
Donald Trump, for one, made use of such a tactic. The crux of his “Make America Great Again” position was that the former Obama administration had let America become weak and that such a de-emphasis of American hegemony should be reverted.
And come 2020, the Biden team did something similar. Trump offered an enemy that could be clearly attacked for a Democratic Party fracturing between its progressive and moderate wings. When the alternative was an additional term of the Trump administration, many people saw a compromise candidate like Biden as comparatively palatable.
However, after Biden’s victory, a challenge has had the danger of presenting itself: according to Pew Research, most people voted for Biden simply because he wasn’t Trump. Though that may have successfully propelled him into power, it also means many who voted for him don’t genuinely support his positions.
Such a situation can be perilous for a President. Campaign rhetoric and presidential policy often differ, but the smaller number of Biden voters who supported his policies could lead him to become an unpopular president when implementing his agenda.
However, if you continue to make Trump a threat even beyond his removal from power, Biden doesn’t have to run into that issue.
Don’t get me wrong, the danger of Trump’s underlying movement is still real, but the Democratic Party has not yet signaled that they will address that. The largest contributors to the Capitol insurrection were the spread of rampant misinformation online, the local police’s complicity in the riot and the Congress members that encouraged such things to happen.
Yet, those things are not being addressed. Though Trump’s Twitter accounts may have been banned, countless other avenues for far-right rhetoric still fester in social media. In cities like Washington D.C., initial promises to both defund and reimagine law enforcement have fizzled out. Many of those who publicly spread election lies and encouraged violence, such as Senator Ted Cruz, have faced no real punishment for their crimes.
If the U.S. government genuinely wanted to confront the issues that led to such a violent event, it could. However, it has failed to address those while continuing forward with an impeachment trial that will leave no tangible impact on the damage the Trump administration made.
Because of all that, this can only be seen as a political move. This is a realization that Trump’s brand of American dysfunction was engaging but useful in creating opposition movements. This is a performance of justice that will not stop another act of fascist terror from happening again. This is another failed impeachment conviction that will change nothing and hold no one accountable.
For the first time in years, the Democratic Party has total power in the Federal Government. However, they must commit to actually dealing with the root causes of an American division and stop engaging in legislative action they know they will fail and recognize these actions for what they are: political theater, and nothing more.
Jacob Vito is a first-year Community and Regional Development major at UC Davis. He is from western Pennsylvania.
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