On Feb. 13, the Senate didn’t just wrap up an unprecedented impeachment trial. It appears they set up a great plot for the next “Purge” movie too. By many voting purely based on party lines to acquit former President Trump for incitement of violence, our senators informally penned a new amendment. Any president or individual in power now has the authority to commit acts of treason or terrorism, resign and get away with it. With this acquittal went the validity of the United States Constitution.
When the House sends articles of impeachment over to the Senate, the chamber is transformed into a courtroom, with senators sworn in to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” Now, I have read this impeachment oath over and over, and I see no footnote stating that senators can cross their fingers behind their backs during the swearing in.
So why, then, did 43 senators vote to acquit former President Trump? Section 3 of the 14th Amendment precludes persons that have “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the US from holding public office. I won’t re-hash the evidence of the former president’s guilt; the proof is in the tweets. But voting to acquit Trump booted the Constitution from its position of governing body and ushered in a new era of party-first politics.
Don’t believe me? We have seen two of the most blatant examples of party-first politics in the past few weeks.
Exhibit A – Liz Cheney. In a public vote on Jan. 13, 10 out of 211 House Republicans voted to impeach President Trump, Cheney among them. In an anonymous vote on Feb. 3, these Congressmen, who had censured the Wyoming representative for her “vote of conscience,” decided whether or not to remove the Congresswoman from her committee chair. In a landslide 145-61 vote, Cheney kept her seat, prompting the question: how might these representatives have voted in the impeachment trial had they not felt the merciless glare of their constituents and the weight of public opinion?
Exhibit B – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Addressing the Senate on Jan. 19, McConnell made it clear that the rioters were “provoked by the president.” Then, in a contradictory but wildly predictable move, McConnell voted to acquit. What followed was one of the most Oscar-worthy performances in Senate history. Just moments after voting, McConnell stated that, “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” Let us not forget why the impeachment process was established in the first place – to check the executive branch and hold the president accountable for “abuse of power.” So why did McConnell vote to acquit?
The answer is quite simple. Re-election. He and all but seven Senate Republicans were fully aware of the president’s efforts to undermine the election, the role he played in the attacks and the fact that their very lives were in danger. But they were more aware of the storm of mudslinging they would face from their constituents and peers if they voted otherwise.
Yes, our representatives make a promise to speak for our interests in Washington, but they take an oath to protect the Constitution. If our representatives are so willing to disregard our foundational laws to stay in their party’s favor, what is the point in abiding by the Constitution at all? Hypothetically, with this impeachment trial as precedent, couldn’t our lawmakers undermine the Constitution in any comparable trial going forward, if there is a party-wide commitment to neglecting it?
If our senators continue down this path and vote solely based on their chances of reelection and constituent opinion, what does that mean for our democracy? Is there any hope in the future of compromise across the aisle, or should we just come to expect thoughtless, party-loyal decisions for all future legislation?
Whether or not you agree with the basis of former President Trump’s second impeachment, the outcome is clear. We must hold our representatives accountable for upholding the very document meant to eliminate the monarchical behavior they are exhibiting.