Why Donald Trump Must Be Convicted In A Senate Trial
The 6th of January 2021 will go down as an infamous date in American history. It is the date on which far-right rioters, spurred on by a speech from the President of the United States, marched upon and then into the US Capitol. Many of them were armed. They went through the building vandalising many rooms. There were many violent clashes inside and outside of the building. Chaos swept across the centre of American Government. As this happened, the President held an ‘insurrection tailgate party’ in which he simply sat and watched the proceedings. According to some reports, he was pleased by the insurrection. Despite numerous desperate calls asking him to call for the riot to end, he waited two hours before doing so. The same reports suggest he only called them off due to urging from his aides and advisors. During the chaos of the events, five people died, including a police officer. The results of this insurrection could have been far worse. The mob descending upon the Capitol came within a few feet in several instances of members of Congress and the Vice President. If they had reached them, it is possible they could have been injured or even killed by the mob. The attack’s consequences could have been truly disastrous.
Since the attack on the Capitol, Trump’s role in the chaos has drawn bipartisan criticism and shock. On the 13th of January 2021, Trump became the first President in US history to be impeached twice, adding to the list of infamous firsts characterising his presidency. Ten Republican representatives voted to impeach the President, making the proceedings, in the words of the New York Times, ‘the most bipartisan impeachment’ in American presidential history. The next step following impeachment is for the proceedings to move to a Senate trial where members of the Senate will vote whether or not to convict the president of his offences. As of the time of writing, it is unclear when the Senate trial will formally begin. However, it will certainly take place whilst Donald Trump is out of office. Under the Biden presidency, lawmakers in the Senate will be faced with the following question: ‘Should we vote to convict Donald Trump, the former President of the United States, even though he is not currently sitting in office?’. Many might believe that the ultimate answer to the question is of limited importance. After all, a senate trial will not actually remove Trump. He will already be out of office. This essay is written to contest this view. Impeachment proceedings are vitally important, and it is imperative that Donald Trump be convicted within.
The Validity of the Articles of Impeachment
The first consideration when considering whether an impeachment is justified is whether the case which it makes is valid. If impeachment and conviction were to occur without valid charges, impeachment as an institution would be demeaned and denigrated and a dangerous precedent would be set. Articles of impeachment do not need to overcome the same burden of proof as criminal charges when being prosecuted. Impeachment is a fundamentally political process, and lawmakers themselves decide how much evidence is needed for impeachment, and then a conviction. The Constitution stipulates that impeachment is justified in the cases of ‘treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours’. Of these, ‘high crimes’ are the offence of which Trump is being accused. It is fairly ambiguous what constitutes a high crime. It generally comes down to the discretion of lawmakers. If they believe he is guilty of what in their view is a high crime, that is sufficient to justify impeachment and conviction. The case made by lawmakers is very convincing in this regard.
Donald Trump was impeached for ‘incitement of insurrection’. The charges put forth argue that, through both his repeated false claims that the election was stolen by the Democrats and his inflammatory speech on the day of the attack, Donald Trump is responsible for inciting the insurrection against the Capitol. House lawmakers have only drafted this single article. He incited an insurrection in their view, and their charges against him are generally built upon quite solid ground.
Incitement is defined as ‘the action of provoking unlawful behaviour or urging someone to behave unlawfully’. Through his repeated ‘stop the steal' campaign and repeated contestation of the election, Trump has been personally responsible for spreading the myth that he won the election. He was the first high profile official to support it and has also been the most vocal mouthpiece for the 'stop the steal' campaign. Whilst other lawmakers have agreed to go along with it to a certain extent, they mostly have chosen to do so to appease the president. On the day of the insurrection, he continued to spread this toxic myth. This was what galvanised the rioters to march upon and storm the capitol. Trump’s spreading of conspiracy theories provided the overriding long-term reason which spurred them on to attack the centre of American government.
Moreover, Donald Trump is also responsible for agitating his supporters on the day to March towards the capitol building. In a speech to his supporters, Trump declared that they would ‘walk down to the Capitol’ and ‘not going to be cheering so much for some of them [members of Congress], because you'll never take back our country with weakness.’ By calling for this march upon Congress with a show of 'strength', he spurred on the protestors and provided the basis for their march upon the Capitol.
Video evidence of the insurrection shows rioters shouting “We were invited here! We were invited by the President of the United States!”. Many rioters have told the FBI and even the media that they marched upon the Capitol because they felt Trump was telling them to. Trump agitated the march against Congress, both in the long and short term. There is sufficient evidence to justify that he was personally responsible for provoking the unlawful behaviour of insurrection. Therefore, his charges of ‘insurrection' are completely valid. It is entirely justified for Trump to be impeached and convicted on the charges of impeachment which house lawmakers have laid out.
Moving Past Donald Trump
In addition to being legally sound, there are strong reasons to support the impeachment proceedings against Trump in the Senate trial. The first reason why Trump’s conviction would be beneficial is simple, yet should not be undervalued. Convicting Trump would mean that, following a simple Senate majority vote, Trump would no longer be able to run for future federal office, including most importantly the Presidency. This would be of significant benefit to the entire country. Trump’s political style is extremely confrontational. He builds up his political message through scapegoating, blaming and divisive rhetoric. He did so in 2016 and in 2020 and would again if here were to run in 2024. This builds divisions and fuels partisanship and generally divides the US populace. Preventing his running denies his divisive rhetoric a national platform, making it far less effective. Furthermore, it would, quite importantly, prevent a potential second Trump presidency, which would be disastrous for the US. It would eliminate the risk of America having to weather Trump’s inept and divisive leadership again. This is of strong benefit, and would facilitate America’s movement past Trump, helping the nation recover from the bitter divides which have plagued the last four years.
A conviction in the Senate would also generally help the Republican Party move away from Trump. If a conviction were to happen, Trump would be the first US President ever to be convicted in a Senate trial. He would be repudiated in a historic and bipartisan manner. It would provide a reason and occasion to facilitate the general move away from Trump which some GOP leaders have been considering. It would also mean that there would no longer be the risk of Trump running for President in 2024 and winning the Republican nomination, in which case mainstream republicans would be forced to shift to support their unsavoury presidential candidate as happened in 2016. Trump’s base would still undoubtedly exist, and Republicans would have to cater to it to an extent, but, conviction would still be a substantial step towards the transition away from Trump, and hopefully a return to the less divisive and less institutionally damaging politics that existed before the Trump era.
The Issue of Precedent
However, the most important reason why Senate lawmakers must impeach Trump goes beyond the current short-term concerns and could affect America in the years to come in one extremely substantial way. This effect can be simply described by one word: precedent. Senate lawmakers must create the precedent to ensure that future Trump-like figures are unable to trample upon the institutions and practices of America’s democracy like Trump has done over the past four years. Trump’s presidency has been defined by impunity throughout its existence. He has failed to ever face concrete punishments for his actions. If he can brazenly misuse the power of the presidency without punishment, future leaders will likely believe they can do the same. Trump is not the world’s first strongman. He likely will not be America’s last. Congress needs to define the limits of what is acceptable within the American democracy. American government is founded upon the belief that no individual is above the law. Congress must apply this principle to the President, just as it is applied to all others. Inciting an insurrection against Congress, a co-equal branch of government, easily crosses the line of what should be allowed. If Congress does not act upon this grotesque offense, the precedent that is created is that the President remains unpunished for committing such a crime, as well as the multitude of other crimes he has committed. The conviction does not only help the nation now, but it acts to set the limit on future presidential power and is extremely important to ensure future strongmen are held to account.
Thus, it is of the utmost importance that Trump is removed for several reasons. Firstly, and perhaps most simply, he is guilty of the crime and thus deserves to be punished. Convicting Trump in a Senate trial will ease the political scene’s transition away from him. Moreover, it sends a strong message to future strongmen that there are limits to the power of the presidency, and that they must respect the integrity of US democracy and its system of co-equal institutions of government. Donald Trump must be convicted for the crimes he committed. To not do so would be detrimental to the United States.