Time to Move On?

Editors discuss former President Trump’s second impeachment trial

Lyle Griggs, Copy

Just after former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s death, a reporter asked a passing elderly Scottish woman about the late politician’s funeral. “Not a bit o’ good,” the woman said furiously, bristling under a tensely-brandished umbrella, “not a bit. I’d put a stake through ‘er heart and garlic ‘round ‘er neck to make sure she never comes back.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump may not be six feet under, but his brief and disastrous political career is at least temporarily dead. Our elected leaders now have a choice: do we forget about the Floridian wannabe authoritarian or, as the Scot recommended, do we put a stake through his heart?

I’m referring, of course, to the former president’s Senate impeachment trial. If convicted, Trump would face a number of penalties, including the loss of his federal pension. Most importantly, a conviction would bar him from holding public office. This latter penalty would foreclose on Trump’s political aspirations.

Unlike Trump’s first impeachment trial, at which Republicans vigorously defended his conduct, a large, bipartisan majority of senators now believes that Trump committed an impeachable offense on January 6th. Still, many hope to get Trump off on a technicality: he’s no longer president. Republican senators argue that the intent of an impeachment trial is to remove a sitting official, and that Trump’s current status makes conviction irrelevant. More importantly, they argue that the conviction process would further divide the nation.

These arguments hold no water. First, a conviction does more than simply remove a president; it prevents him from further influencing the political process. The Capitol insurrection is proof enough that Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric should never again be permitted in Washington. Second, the Republicans’ “unity” rhetoric is simply wrong. Unity requires accountability; we must first identify and extinguish the evil that divides us. Finally, not convicting the former president simply because of his new status as a private citizen would set a terrible precedent. If Congress decides that ex-presidents are immune from conviction, what would stop a future president from grossly abusing their power during their final week in office?

If, as most senators of both parties believe, Trump committed an impeachable offense by inciting an insurrection at the Capitol, he should be convicted, regardless of the unusual timing of the trial. He may already be politically dead, but we must drive this final stake through the fascist’s heart.