In a country as divided as the United States, a majority of 57 to 43 for any proposal is remarkable. When the proposition is that a former president should be sentenced for inciting insurgency, that’s historic. Donald trump survived his Senate trial for the siege of the Capitol he helped prepare on January 6. But the process was anything but a futile exercise. Three inheritances stand out in particular.
At the very least, he drew a line between the principle wing of republicanism and the rest (unfortunately dominant). Seven of the party’s senators – Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Patrick Toomey, and Susan Collins – contributed to the most bipartisan presidential conviction vote in U.S. history. The party is often seen as irreformable, and perhaps it is. But that makes their position all the more noble: it was done with the almost certain expectation of abuse and ostracism from colleagues and activists. Moderate conservatives should use their demonstration of conscience as a platform to build on.
The lawsuit also has implications for Trump himself, although they do not extend to a bar to resume office. By video proof as senators have made public, it is clearer than a month ago how close the seat has come to something much worse. The rioters were just a matter of seconds and yards away from Mike Pence, the former vice president and object of their rage. Romney was another beneficiary of fine margins and courageous security personnel. This evidence will and should be raised if Trump mounts another White House bid in 2024. The United States has not officially purged him of his public life. But with sheer moral pressure, it can make a comeback more difficult than it could have been.
Nor is it necessary for the pressure to stop at abstract morality. Great Republican Mitch McConnell, after voting with Trump, has hinted his troubles are not quite over. “We have a criminal justice system in this country,” he said, in his genomic way. “We have civil disputes.” These words, coming from an ally of sorts, should baffle the former president.
As welcome as these ramifications are, the impeachment process may turn out to have even greater consequences. He restored part of the good reputation of the republic. From start to finish, the action was swift, confusing expectations of a saga that would drain voters of patience and President Joe Biden of early momentum. Despite this speed, there was no superficiality, other than Trump’s hapless defense team. The process was also not marred by another dreaded round of civil unrest. As the new president wisely stood aside, Congress, so weakened at times, was once again central to national life. An attack on his bodily integrity led to the renewal of his oversight role over the executive.
At the end of this swift and peaceful constitutional process, the vote took place and resulted in a decisive repudiation, if not quite the two-thirds majority demanded by the Founders. This is not the rebirth of American democracy. Trump is still free to threaten this troubled project. Its hold over a large minority of the nation remains absolute. All the same, 57-43 is a more bipartisan result than many would have credited just a month ago. It is incumbent on sane Republicans to make sure this is the start of something, not a failure in the continued debasement of the American right. The party must reject not only Trump, but the paranoia and extremism that led to the deadly violence on January 6. He has seven remarkable examples to follow.