Why the Senate Will not Convict

The last time Trump was caught red-handed, making his perfect telephone call to the president of Ukraine, various lawmakers asked rhetorically, “If this is not an impeachable offense, what is?” Now again the same question can be asked, and this time with even less room for doubt. And yet, once again, the Senate won’t convict. Why not?

For one thing Trump did not explicitly call for insurrection in his Save America Rally speech. I heard him calmly state, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

What he did do was present a litany of false claims as grounds for overturning an election. Was he lying? That depends on whether he believed what he was saying. Barring discovery of an Access Hollywood-type tape where he is caught admitting, “I don’t believe a word of it myself, but it sure fires up my fans,” it is impossible to say for sure.

Even so, Trump might be considered criminally negligent for fanning the flames. But given that what happened subsequently was unprecedented in American history, it is hard to see how he could be held accountable even in that way.

The Senate proceeding, however, will not be a criminal trial, but a political one. Is Trump still vulnerable then? No. The real reason Trump won’t be convicted is that the case for his inciting insurrection is nothing less than his entire presidency, and indeed, running for the office. For before he was even elected he demurred when asked if he would accept defeat, and after he was elected, he claimed he had won the popular vote. So it was already clear in 2016 that Trump was not going to relinquish power willingly no matter what the electorate had to say.

But to convict him on these grounds, Republican senators would have to acknowledge they had been consorting with a demagogue from day one. This they will not do since their tens of millions of constituents did likewise.

published in the New Haven Register on January 28, 2021

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