Another Shooting in the Middle of Fifth Avenue?
By Alan Resnick
I just prepared my lunch and am sitting down to watch the opening act of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. But I’m not entirely sure why I’m watching.
I’m certainly not watching to determine Trump’s guilt or innocence. He planted the seeds for the January 6th insurrection even before he was elected, when he stated that the only way he could lose to Hillary Clinton was if the election were rigged. Many just attributed the comment to a massive insecurity complex or as a defense mechanism for protecting an outsized ego. But they were wrong. Trump revived this attempt to undermine our democracy even before Joe Biden was nominated as his opponent, and carried it through the campaign season, even after his electoral drubbing on November 3, Sixty meritless lawsuits later, he was still promoting the Big Lie that the election had been stolen. Trump continued his attacks on the integrity of the election in December via his Twitter account until it was mercifully deleted.
And then Trump gave his final marching orders at his “Save America” rally on January 6th, the day the election results were to be certified. He referenced fighting multiple times during his speech, and invited the throng to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, claiming he would be there with him. (Of course, he did not march with the masses, choosing to watch the fire he had started burn on TV.)
I’m also not watching because I’m interested in reliving the events of January 6th. I happened to be watching the certification of election results on that afternoon, simply because, even though it was just a formality, it was something that was not typically broadcast. And then a riot ensued, and I watched in horror and despair as the People’s House was attacked by fellow citizens. It is expected that there will be a heavy use of video clips from that day as part of the prosecution’s case. I have no need to see them again.
And I’m not watching because I’m expecting Donald Trump to be convicted by the Senate of “incitement of insurrection,” as it certainly seems to be a done deal. On January 26, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky tried to force a vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial. His motion was killed by a 55-45 margin, meaning that 45 Republican senators had decided the trial was unconstitutional before it even began. Talk about spitting into the wind.
In spite of all this, however, I will watch. At a minimum, it’s history. And it should be great political theater.
Today’s hearings centered on the question of whether a president can, under the Constitution, be tried by the Senate after he has left office. In the opinion of almost every legal scholar, post-presidential impeachments and convictions are constitutional.
There are nine impeachment managers, none of whom served in this role during the first trial. Nancy Pelosi has appointed Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin, who taught constitutional law for more than 25 years at American University, as the lead manager. He reportedly began drafting the articles of impeachment the morning after the January 6th insurrection, one week after the suicide of his son.
I was hoping that Raskin would perform as admirably as Adam Schiff, the lead prosecutor in the previous trial. Raskin opened and closed his team’s two-hour argument and he was spectacular – poised yet emotional, articulate, self-deprecating, and powerful. As expected, about 13 minutes of his opening presentation involved a video of the events of January 6th. It was chilling in its graphic depiction of the violence and the language of the rioters.
I wished the broadcast I was watching had a split-screen display of the video and the senators’ reactions to it as it was playing, but no such luck. I wanted to know which senators were watching and engaged and which senators couldn’t or wouldn’t watch. I was particularly curious about what Trump acolytes like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson, and Marco Rubio were doing while the video was shown. I was ecstatic when Congressmen Raskin posed one of the many questions I hoped would be raised during this trial: “If this wasn’t an impeachable offense, then what is?”
Raskin’s closing was heart-breaking. He recounted returning to Washington for the election certification on January 6th, just a couple of days after burying his son. One of his daughters and his son-in-law accompanied him because they knew he was still emotionally raw. Prior to leaving, his daughter asked him if Washington would be safe that day, as she had read that Trump was holding a rally in the morning. Raskin assured them that it would be. But then the riot ensued and Raskin was separated from his daughter and his son-in-law, he on the floor of the House and they in a fellow representative’s office. When the insurrection had been quelled and they were reunited, Raskin told his daughter that this would not happen again when she returned to the Capitol. But his daughter told him she did not want to come back to the Capitol. His voice cracked as he detailed this story.
The lawyers representing the President then had two hours to present their argument. Their defense can be boiled down to a simple phrase – “Yeah, so what?” Did Trump’s actions and words both before and on the day of January 6th incite an insurrection? Yeah, so what? He’s a private citizen now (even though he still demands he be referred to as the 45th president rather than the former president) and therefore can’t be held accountable. Did the President talk about the need to fight for freedom multiple times during his diatribe on the morning of January 6th? Yeah, so what? His political speech was protected under the First Amendment, he only mentioned fighting a few times, and he was speaking figuratively, not literally.
The first lawyer to speak, Bruce Castor, spent almost 50 minutes in what can charitably be described as a rambling series of random thoughts. Trump’s other lawyer, David Schoen, used his time to make a fiery partisan speech and recite a poem by James Wadsworth Longfellow, which left him in tears. Both leaned and slouched on the podium as they spoke, much as their client did when he was in office. Perhaps this was some form of a shout-out to Trump or maybe it was a secret code.
Then the senators voted. The vote was 56 to 44, with all 50 Democratic senators and six Republican senators agreeing that a trial would be constitutional. Even after that horrific video was played showing their workplace being stormed and ransacked, their colleagues and staff hiding under tables, police officers getting killed and speared with an American flag, 44 Republican Senators said: “Yeah, so what?”
Only a simple majority vote was necessary. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators. That means another 11 Republican senators will have to be convinced to convict, after they’ve already in effect said that the trial is moot. And there’s no guarantee that those six Republican senators who said the trial was constitutional will vote to convict.
Mitch McConnell, the hypocrite’s hypocrite, was one of the 44 senators to claim that the trial was unconstitutional now that Trump was out of office. Of course, he previously refused to have the case be heard by the Senate in January while Trump was in still office. And he later in the evening gave his blessing to his fellow Republican Senators to “vote their conscience.” What a mensch Mitch is.
I ended the day simultaneously inspired and despondent. Jamie Raskin and his team left me with great hope for truth, justice, and the American way. And those 44 senators left me depressed and disgusted over their cravenness and timerity.
I’m not sure how much I will watch of the actual trial. Republicans seem intent on sweeping this whole despicable episode in history under the rug as quickly as possible in the name of moving forward and unifying the country. Democrats want to move past this and get back to the business of trying to enact President Biden’s agenda.
I want the impeachment managers to make their 16 hours of prosecution as personal and uncomfortable as possible for those 100 senators sitting in judgment. After all, those senators are in the unique position of being both jurors and witnesses. For example, I’d like the impeachment managers to ask senators to think about whether the riot would have occurred if someone other than Donald Trump incited the throng at the Ellipse on the morning of January 6th. Would the mob have stormed the Capitol if Donald Jr. gave the same speech? How about Rudy Guliani, with hair dye dripping down the sides of his face? Or how about Ivanka?
I’d like the impeachment managers to ask the senators to think about how they would vote if the ballot was secret rather than public. I hope the impeachment managers asks the senators what takes priority, their sworn oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign or domestic, or furthering their own careers and winning their next election by not upsetting their voting base? I want the impeachment managers to challenge the senators to ask themselves if they will be able to look in a mirror, at their spouse or significant other, or at their children after they vote. I’d inquire as to how each senator would like to be remembered for their time in office.
I’m also curious how Trump’s attorneys will use their 16 hours. Given yesterday’s presentation and the simplicity of the “Yeah, so what?” defense, it’s hard to imagine that their presentation will require more than a couple of hours. Perhaps they will spend the rest of the time telling stories or having Schoen recite more of Longfellow’s poems.
I’m curious about more one more thing, although it won’t be brought up as part of the trial. I’m curious if Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine, still believes that Donald Trump learned anything from his first impeachment.
Alan Resnick is an industrial psychologist with over 40 years of professional experience. He and his wife are sheltering at home in Farmington Hills, Michigan. He is passing the time by cooking, exercising, catching up on friends’ recommendations of must-see TV and writing.