In losing the Democrats won

In this image from video, Senators vote on the first article of impeachment during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Senate Television via AP)

The Democrats in the US House of Representatives may have lost the impeachment battle, but they have won the political war. The impeachment trial exposed Trump for what he really is – a leader who treats America as his personal fiefdom and does not believe he has to account for his actions. While Trump may feel vindicated, today he is an Emperor with no clothes, and the Democrats have a barrage of political ammunition to use against him in the upcoming election. 

Even though numerous Republicans in the Senate admitted that Trump’s behaviour was inappropriate, shameful and wrong, they lacked the courage to unseat him, and for that they will likely pay at the polls. Those vulnerable Republicans in swing states will have trouble defending how they aligned themselves with Trump when he clearly abused his power, and considers himself above the law.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska called Trump’s behaviour shameful and wrong, while Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Lamar Alexander said Trump violated the bounds of appropriate Presidential behaviour, and the list goes on. Rubio shocked his colleagues by saying, “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment doesn’t mean it is in the best interests of the country to remove him from office.” The Democrats will remind voters of such farcical comments, and show how the Republicans in the Senate executed a political cover up for a President’s misdemeanors. Their rallying cry at these elections will likely be restoring dignity to the White House. 

It was only Mitt Romney who was the lone Republican in the Senate who voted to impeach Trump for abusing his power. Just prior to the vote Romney said, “The historic meaning of the words “high crimes and misdemeanors,’ the writings of the Founders and my own reasoned judgement convince me that a president can indeed commit acts against the public trust that are so egregious that while they are not statutory crimes, they would demand removal from office.” Romney found that Trump was guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.

Romney’s stance was in stark contrast to that articulated by Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz against impeaching Trump. Dershowitz asserted that “A president can never be impeached for an abuse of power,” in other words, any abuse of power short of a criminal act is not impeachable. The Democrats will quote Dershowitz on the campaign trail to show Trump’s dangerous sense of impunity.

As Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders said, “How do you have a trial without witnesses?” It is particularly egregious for the Republicans to have voted 51-49 against considering new evidence as it exposes their complicity in Trump’s crimes and misdemeanors. Knowing that former National Security Advisor John Bolton writes in his forthcoming book that Trump told him that he intended to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to investigations, it did not serve the cause of justice to prevent him from being heard as a witness. Had that testimony been allowed they may have been forced to impeach him. 

There is no question that the senators lacked the courage of their convictions, and some may have also feared the consequences of not towing the party line. Afterall they were threatened by a President who never thought twice about interfering in the impeachment process. The President’s message to Senators as delivered by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnel read, “You don’t even have a choice, you ain’t gonna hear no witnesses, you ain’t gonna see no documentation cause we’re not letting you do it – you are going to put your imprimatur on it.”

That is not to say that Trump will lose the next election, as a year is a long time in politics, but the impeachment trial certainly dented his image as a President who is committed to doing the best for his country, and putting America first. Instead he has been exposed as an opportunistic President who is committed to doing the best for himself and his political fortunes. 

What is truly regrettable about the outcome of the impeachment trial is the lesson Trump will take away from the debacle which is that the Congress has no appetite to stand in his way, and he may assume that he has a blank cheque to act as he sees fit for the next 12 months of his term. There is no question that Trump is now emboldened to abuse his power again, and that means that the House of Representatives will need to exercise its oversight powers aggressively to curb potential abuses. 

Democrats have been advised to bombard the Trump administration with subpoenas which will encourage those with information about abuse of power to come forward. The time for passivity is surely over, and House witness who defy subpoenas should be held in contempt and referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution.

As election season draws nearer, the rule of law and fitness to hold office must become central to the American political debate.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.