Impeachment is ultimately a political judgment. Senators are jurors in the sense that they hear evidence and arguments and decide the trial’s outcome. They are not, however, acting in a legal capacity. They are not finding the accused guilty of a crime, nor are they establishing that person’s legal liability. They are deciding whether the person has the moral character to hold an office of public trust under the Constitution.
It should be manifestly clear that Trump does not have that character. Democracy fundamentally requires that all officeholders separate their private interests from their public interests. If we did not have this requirement, officeholders could rightly demand bribes from people. They could use their public power to coerce private citizens into doing something they don’t want, whether it is providing property to the officeholder or his family or supporting the officeholder’s continued hold on power. That systemic corruption is what typifies autocracies and totalitarian governments, not free republics such as ours.
Trump has repeatedly shown he does not understand that basic idea. He treated his attorneys general like his private lawyers and seemed unable to understand that their primary loyalty ran to the law, not to him. He failed to separate his business holdings from himself, which predictably resulted in numerous foreign leaders ostentatiously staying at his hotels to curry favor with him. His attempt to steer the annual Group of Seven summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies to his own Doral resort was a blatant use of public power for private gain. His now-infamous phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he asked him to investigate accusations against now-President Biden, is yet another example of Trump’s inability to separate public from private interests. This is a deeply ingrained belief for Trump, one inconsistent with holding any public office.
His refusal to accept the election outcome is just an outgrowth of this mind-set. Trump should have realized that challenging an election’s legitimacy without clear and convincing proof would damage American democracy. He nonetheless went ahead, spreading untruths with characteristic disdain. He succeeded in convincing fellow partisans that democracy itself had been corrupted by an evil force. It’s immaterial whether he intended his supporters at the Jan. 6 rally to violently storm the Capitol; any sentient person should have known what could transpire given the passions Trump deliberately stoked. The numerous reports of Trump’s behavior during those critical hours support the view that he would have been happy to hold on to power by any means necessary so long as he could maintain plausible deniability. That is simply heinous.
Political reality dictates that Republican senators who intend to run for office will vote to acquit. There are few people who are courageous enough to fight against the nearly unanimous opinion of the voters who elect them. That means that the votes to convict must come from those who are willing to step aside when their terms are up or who were just reelected and thus have nearly six years to see if Republican voters change their minds. Those people will be freer to consider what the public interest requires.
That interest demands conviction to strip Trump of his ability to ever hold federal public office again. Imagine what a man of Trump’s character might do if he did regain the presidency. As someone who believes he was unfairly and illegally deprived of reelection, he would surely give freer rein to his selfish passions in his next tour in office. He would likely take a keener interest in staffing his administration with personal loyalists rather than Republican operatives, removing the brakes of internal dissent that often kept Trump from working his will. He surely would not take kindly to his perceived enemies, and it should be clear by now that he views even Republicans who have wavered in their support for him as potential enemies. Such a man should not have control over the country’s courts, police and military.
Revolutionary War patriot Nathan Hale is famously quoted as saying, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” as the British executed him. Republican senators should willingly give their political lives for their country and vote to convict.