Although I am very willing to believe that the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is unconstitutional, it seems to me a mistake for Mr. Trump’s lawyers and supporters in the media to have begun their case by arguing for a dismissal on these grounds.
For one thing, it gave the prima donnas of the Republican caucus in the senate an opportunity to curry favor with the media by voting against dismissal without voting (as yet, anyway) to convict.
A vote for conviction, as they well knew, could get them in a lot of trouble back home, whereas a vote only to proceed with the trial could be represented as a kind of half-way house between conviction and acquittal. They must have welcomed the chance to pretend to a fair-minded willingness, as Liz Cheney carefully put it after she got in trouble back home for voting for impeachment in the House, to “listen to the evidence.”
To put it another way, raising the constitutional question only served to perpetuate the illusion that what they were engaged in was a fair trial in which impartial jurors would carefully weigh hard, factual evidence on both sides before reaching a verdict.
No, the president’s lawyers should not have been so lawyerly. They should have attacked not the trial’s constitutionality but its absurdity—beginning with the absurdity of using a mechanism for removing an unfit person from office against a person who was not in office.
That argument could only have led them on to make the case for the even greater absurdity of the trial’s pretensions to fairness and due process.
And here we come upon the greatest absurdity of all, which is that it was the Republicans—especially the Romneys and the Murkowskis and the Sasses—who for whatever reason felt it necessary to pretend that the trial was a fair one. The Democrats didn’t bother. No need for them to “listen to the evidence” before pronouncing the former president guilty as charged.
Which was just as well, as there was no evidence beyond what was available to the whole world on Jan. 6—not that even that was necessary for the Democrats who had long ago convicted him in their hearts. As The Washington Post announced with characteristic bravado on the day he took office: “The campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.”
That was one thing, at least, that the paper got right about President Trump.
Now that he has returned to private life, however, that campaign has almost ended—almost, but not quite—with the deck as stacked against him as it was four years ago. The House managers quickly demonstrated as much by turning what purported to be a judicial proceeding based on fact, albeit without a proper judge, into a promotional video for the media’s long-running anti-Trump narrative.
That, like the media’s oft-repeated bald assertion that claims of electoral fraud have been comprehensively “debunked” when they have hardly even been investigated, was factual enough for them—and also, apparently, for the Republicans whose anti-Trumpery, having found favor with the media, has become their brand.
I hope I am not being unfair by attributing to them such a cynical motive for their behavior. They may sincerely believe that Mr. Trump incited an “insurrection” on Jan. 6, in spite of having urged the demonstrators to “stay peaceful”—the one part of his speech that the Democratic prosecutors did not include in their video presentation.
But even if his Republican detractors truly believe as the Democrats do, or say they do, about the riot in the Capitol, I can’t see how that excuses them for simply forgetting, along with the media, the context in which the “insurrection” charge must be seen by anyone wishing to be fair minded.
True or not, in other words, the “incitement” charge is undeniably the latest in a series of efforts by Democrats, on a series of more or less flimsy pretexts, to remove a duly elected Republican president from office—or, in this case, to prevent him from being elected again—and this on the transparently ironic ground that it is he who is the “threat to democracy.”
For anyone calling himself or herself a Republican not even to notice and to deplore such a nakedly partisan exercise of power in the guise of a judical proceeding there can be no excuse. The pretense of fair-mindedness will deceive no one who has not already deceived himself.
James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for the New Criterion.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.