Washington After Donald Trump was acquitted in an impeachment for the second time in his life, the accusers became emotional. “The shame will remain, it sticks to Donald Trump and can never be washed away,” said Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader in the US Senate.
The powerful Congress Chamber had previously exonerated the ex-president of the charge of inciting an uprising in connection with the storming of the Capitol. Seven Republican senators pronounced Trump guilty. But for the necessary two-thirds majority, the Democrats would have needed a total of 17 Republicans.
The process was remarkable on many levels: Trump was the only US president in history to face impeachment twice. In addition, the trial was held after Trump had already left the White House – something like this had never happened before.
During the demonstration, witness interrogations were completely replaced by videos. The audience saw disturbing, partly previously unpublished material from hundreds of surveillance cameras and cell phones. The “TikTok impeachment” – as the broadcaster ABC christened the process – was a novelty. In contrast to the first Trump impeachment in the Ukraine affair, which was based on a leaked phone call, the actions of the president and the violent consequences were visible to the whole world.
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The fact that Trump was still not found guilty in the end exposed the weaknesses of US policy. At the end of an eventful week there are four realizations:
1. The instrument of impeachment is broken
Impeachment is the most powerful tool in the US Congress. The process, while political, is similar to the process in a courtroom. However, the constitution defines the criteria very vaguely, and actors often indulge in the urge to stand out for a few minutes of broadcasting time.
This impeachment in particular was impossible to win: an ex-president who is no longer in office should be removed from office. It is legally controversial whether this is even possible. For most of the Republicans, this offered a welcome excuse to reject the impeachment.
In doing so, they could sharply condemn the events of January 6 – which many Republicans did. Still, they didn’t have to break completely with Trump, which would have raised the question of why they then supported him for a full term. During the trial, the feeling grew that most Republicans had made a decision, no matter how overwhelming the evidence.
The chief Republican in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, dealt sharply against Trump on Saturday. Trump “clearly provoked” the mob and “fed it with lies,” he said. The ex-president, who called on thousands of supporters to oppose the election result, was “practically and morally responsible,” said McConnell. “The people who stormed Congress believed they were acting at the President’s request and direction.”
McConnell, one of Trump’s most loyal companions during his tenure, provided a clear and late reckoning. Still, McConnell voted no to impeachment. That is not credible. And it reinforces the impression of a political show, which is hardly about the cause, but about party lines, loyalties and power games.
2. Even so, the procedure was correct
The indictment alone was an important step: as a signal for the public and as a historical document. Because even if Trump is now a private person, he provoked the uprising of his supporters as the president of the largest western democracy.
For months, Trump worked on a campaign of suspicion, fueled the anger of his supporters and denied Joe Biden’s election victory. Attempting to hold him politically responsible for this was the duty of Congress. Anything else would have signaled to future presidents that they would not have to fear any consequences after similar actions.
Without this impeachment, the extent of the Capitol Storm would not have become clear in concentrated form. In hours of video sequences, a disturbing overall picture unfolded, which caused tears and goose bumps among viewers. Minute by minute, it became clearer that nothing but a terrorist attack occurred on January 6th – and that many senators, members of parliament and police officers only barely escaped with their lives.
For example, surveillance cameras showed that the mob had gotten very close to Republican Mitt Romney before a police officer took him to safety at the last minute. It was similar with Vice President Mike Pence, the demonstrators wanted to hang on a gallows.
Desperate police officers could be heard on tapes being attacked by the mob, more than 70 of whom were seriously injured. “Trump told his supporters to fight like hell. And what they brought us that day was hell, ”said Democratic impeachment leader Jamie Raskin.
The result of the vote may have been clear from the start – but the impeachment provided a comprehensive context that is of central importance for the processing. Last but not least, the impeachment also showed the thin line of defense of Trump’s lawyers: The main argument was that Trump had moved within the freedom of expression.
3. The January 6th uprising is not over
The events on Capitol Hill demonstrated the potential of conspiracy theories and how easily internet extremism can spill onto the streets. It is also unclear how deeply extremists are anchored in the security apparatus. Around 20 police officers were arrested because they were allegedly directly or indirectly involved in the uprising. Biden’s Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, has instructed the military to review extremist structures within its own ranks.
For those affected, the trauma of January 6th is not over anyway. And as a nation, too, the United States has to deal with the fact that a president elected by it provoked an explosion of violence. The investigation by the law enforcement authorities is also likely to take years: More than 200 people have been charged, and thanks to a large manhunt, the federal authorities have identified more than 500 suspects. However, several thousand participants stormed Capitol Hill on January 6, most of them may never be caught.
As the portal “USA Today” researched, the Trump supporters found so far come from 40 states. This shows that Trump has fanatical supporters in all parts of the United States. The ex-president shows no signs of repentance to this day. “I always am and always will be an advocate of the unshakable rule of law,” he said on Saturday.
4. The way for Biden’s goals is clear – in theory
If this impeachment had any positive aspect for Joe Biden, it is this: The trial was over in just five days. Fears that the power center of the USA could be paralyzed for months have not been confirmed.
Biden, who says he did not follow the hearings live, can now concentrate fully on his first major goal: the adoption of an aid package worth almost two billion in Congress. In general, Biden put the focus of day 1 on factual politics and messages of humanity. He signed a record number of decrees, showed himself in jeans walking in front of the White House and is traveling to the Midwest these days.
However, the impeachment also showed that the very narrow majorities of the Democrats in the US Congress only get his party up to a certain point. For large projects like a climate package or tax reforms, it depends on the cooperation of the Republicans. After the impeachment, these act more than ever in the identity crisis: They face a war of direction between those who are loyal to Trump and the moderates, which reduces the chances of cooperation.
More: Impeachment process: US Senate acquits Donald Trump