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Tags: impeachment

First Impeachment Trial Was a Tragedy, Second a Farce

First Impeachment Trial Was a Tragedy, Second a Farce

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., right, the lead House impeachment manager, is joined by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., left, and other managers as they prepare for the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Paul F. deLespinasse By Tuesday, 09 February 2021 10:38 AM EST Current | Bio | Archive

Karl Marx (1818-1883) , who couldn't quite manage to always be wrong, said something once that applies neatly to Donald Trump's impeachment trials:

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

Trump's first trial in the Senate became a tragedy when members of both parties promised to do justice on the basis of the evidence when nearly all of them had no intention of doing any such thing: "Do you solemnly swear that ... you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?"

Centuries ago, religious oaths were taken seriously because people believed that violators would suffer eternal damnation. But the senators apparently were not concerned, perhaps believing they were already in for it.

Before the "trial" began nearly all members had apparently decided how they would vote, lining up neatly along party lines to convict or acquit. All Democrats voted to convict. All Republicans with the honorable exception of Utah Senator Mitt Romney voted to acquit.

It is hard to understand why House Democrats had decided to impeach Trump in the first place. They knew that Republican senators voting to convict would probably be committing political suicide, thanks to the influence of the Trump "base" in primary elections. Political "profiles in courage" are rare.

Removing a president by impeachment is possible, but only if it is strictly bipartisan and preferably initiated by members of the president's own party.

House Democrats were convinced, I believe correctly, that Mr. Trump richly deserved to be impeached and removed. But many of them are lawyers, who of all people understand that we cannot always afford to seek justice.

Trump's defenders had plenty of sand to throw in the prosecution's eyes. They claimed it was an attempt to nullify an election, which was untrue, since Vice President Mike Pence — installed by that same election — would have become president if Trump had been convicted.

They argued that removing Trump should be up to voters in 2020. (Of course when voters decided to remove him, Trump and many of these same politicians tried to nullify that election themselves. But we need not expect principled consistency in politicians, whose attachment to principles is often weak.)

The first impeachment was bad enough, but it is even harder to understand why House Democrats decided to try it again after the attempted coup on January 6th.

In some respects they did have a much stronger case. They were joined by 10 House Republicans. They had the sense to bring only one charge, one which is vastly more serious than any of the charges at the previous impeachment.

The first impeachment was based on witnesses who testified to actions that were not on the public stage and whose testimony could be challenged. But the entire country witnessed the attack on the Capitol and Trump's inflammatory address to the mob. And this time there could be no claims that impeachment would nullify an election.

But the fact that Trump is no longer president gave ample opportunity to confuse the issue again. Most constitutional experts agree this is no obstacle to convicting the former president. But the opportunity has been seized by Senate Republicans. Their claim that this impeachment is unconstitutional allows them to avoid having to take a stand on his guilt.

As Marx might have predicted, the Senate's second "trial" is a farce.

The Senate won't convict Trump, but a conviction would not be without consequences, since it could disqualify Trump from becoming president again.

Whether Trump's administration, a tragedy in many respects, will be followed by a farcical second term in the White House may therefore be up to voters.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.


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"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce."
Tuesday, 09 February 2021 10:38 AM
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