Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The First Day

The only really surprising news in yesterday's first day of the Trump impeachment trial was Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) voting in support of the constitutionality of the proceeding - joining the 5 other Republicans whose vote had been expected and the 50 Democrats. Almost four hours of legal argument led to an otherwise utterly unsurprising outcome. On the other hand, by the Senate's vote, one constitutional question has now been definitively resolved: the Senate can legitimately try a president after the end of his term, at least one who was impeached while still in office.

That said, even if (apart from Cassidy) the Senators' minds were all made up in advance, and thus the arguments of the House Managers and the former president's defense team really didn't sway any actual votes, those arguments were also aimed at a larger American audience, which could hardly help but notice both the difference in quality between the two sets of presentations and the intensely dramatic effect of the Managers' video presentation of what happened on January 6.

Exactly why the former president's lawyers did such a transparently poor job is an interesting question. Of course, they had had little time to prepare and had by far the more difficult case to argue. Stylistically, the first Trump lawyer seemed to ramble and appeared at times to want to flatter the Senate, while the second lawyer just seemed angry and partisan. Trump's "Defense" was also surprisingly incoherent and inconsistent. On the one hand, they argued that Trump's due process rights were denied him by the House moving too quickly to impeach (as if those voting hadn't themselves been witnesses and victims of the crime in question), only then to argue that the process of moving to trial was too slow! (The lawyer also blamed Speaker Pelosi for the latter problem, whereas in fact it was then Majority Leader McConnell who would not allow the Senate to resume sitting until the day before the inauguration.)

In contrast, the House Managers did an amazing job, focusing on the central points at issue in this case - the incontrovertibly violent threats and actions perpetrated against Congress and the Capitol in support of Trump's lies about the election - and the absurdity of assuming what they termed a "January exception" to impeachment. The full horror of what Trump and his mob did, during their attempt to derail the constitutional process of counting the electoral votes, was powerfully on display in the 13-minute video with which the House Managers's presentation began. It is expected that in the coming days we may see more video, recalling more horror. That 44 Republicans remain impervious to this horror only highlights the moral bankruptcy of that party.

"This cannot be the future of America," Rep. Raskin warned. 

While the specific issue being debated yesterday was the narrow one of the actual constitutionality of this particular process, the larger issue is the long-term viability of constitutional and democratic governance. The larger issue is the future of America.

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