Though the Senate’s acquittal of President Trump will one day be regarded as a historic moment, it certainly does not strike as groundbreaking right now. Instead Feb. 5, 2020 felt like yet another day. I almost forgot impeachment was even happening until I looked at my texts after my last class of the day and saw a message from my dad with a link to an article on Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) vote to convict, making Romney the only Republican to vote to remove Trump from office.
I wasn’t alone in feeling disconnected from the process. Only 11 million viewers watched the hearings on the first day with ratings only falling as the trial progressed; in contrast, the Superbowl, on Feb. 4, reached 102 million viewers while the Oscars, on Feb. 9, hit their lowest ratings with 23.6 million viewers. Despite 49.5 percent support for impeachment, there was no mass-scale movement of dissenting people taking to the streets to protest.
Ryan Avent, a writer for “The Economist,” tweeted: “Shame on Congressional Republicans, obviously. But look, shame on all of us … [we] performed anxiety, but mostly went about our lives.” While I sympathize with Avent’s sentiment and wish we, the American public, had done more, I cannot bring myself to agree with him. After watching Trump’s unflinching support among Republicans, it is no wonder people who oppose the administration would rather focus their energy toward the Democratic primaries; people are not complacent, but fatigued and desentized. As incompetent as the Democratic Party may be in managing itself, the corruption in the White House is not the fault of the Democrats. Though their impeachment strategy may have been botched, the acquittal is not the fault of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi nor Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. It was elected Republicans — with the exception of Sen Romney — who failed to do their duty and convict Trump for his crimes, as unpopular as that may have been with constituents.
While I was shocked at the election results on Nov. 8th, 2016, I trusted the House and Senate Republicans, on some level, to keep Trump in check. After all, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) refused to endorse Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voted for a third party candidate in 2016 because he likened choosing Trump to “being shot.” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said he would rather “take his kids to watch some dumpster fires across the state” than go to the 2016 Republican National Convention and watch Trump’s nomination. Yet, each of these men gave in to support Trump, and my initial feelings, unfortunately, turned out to be naïve.
Something fundamentally changed around the time Trump and then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan rolled out the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act at the end of 2017. Just as opposing Trump became more and more difficult, congressional Republicans received not only the federal judicial appointments they wanted but the tax policy they upheld. House and Senate Republicans mostly gave in to Trump, sacrificing their souls and their country on the altars of supply-side economic policy, conservative judges and frankly, convenience.
The story of Trump’s impeachment is not solely one of presidential criminality — but one of the utter spinelessness of today’s Republican elected officials. The worst part is, the initial Republican opposition to Trump shows that these senators and members of Congress know better. Republican congressmen just refuse to act on their better instincts.
I think most individual Republican voters are good people who are often disaffected by the Democratic Party’s ineptitude and coastal elitism. Moreover, I think there are good reasons to be a conservative, at least in the traditional sense of the word — after witnessing over three years of utterly inept, morally corrupt government, I understand the desire for limited government even if I disagree with the concept. The national Republican Party apparatus, however, does not care about small government or any of the principles purportedly supports: when it is convenient, the GOP will expand its own power to suppress voters of color, to deny immigrants on the border their constitutional rights, to give subsidies when convenient and to increase the deficit by giving tax cuts to the wealthy. Republican senators have now acquitted Donald Trump despite overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, making the national GOP not a party, but a personality cult that is doomed to fall apart the minute Trump fails in an electorally significant way. With the exception of Mitt Romney, every current Senate Republican has proven that they do not deserve our public trust.
The short run picture regarding impeachment is somewhat dismal. The Senate has already voted to acquit Trump, so the only way to remove Trump is by voting for the Democratic nominee in the general election. Yet, for those of us who feel powerless to do anything right now, there is a long run picture for impeachment as well — one in which we hold Trump and his enablers accountable for their malfeasance and accurately record history for future generations. Only then can we change the arc of American politics for the better.