On the opening day of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, there was a noticeable rift between the two legal teams, a rift as big as the Grand Canyon. The property managers, a team of Congressional Democrats who voted for impeachment, were knowledgeable, persuasive, focused, and eloquent. Trump lawyers were fun house mirror opposites: poorly prepared, meandering, incoherent and, perhaps worst of all, threatening.
Although the case was vastly superior to the conviction in terms of presentation and merit, it appears that only one Republican senator, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, changed his voice on the constitutionality issue of the trial. The day raised a question that goes deeper than Trump’s offense: is American democracy so polarized that an informed debate is pointless? Are Republicans so committed to power that it doesn’t even make sense to use evidence and logic to convince them? If so, American democracy is facing a far-reaching and perhaps incurable crisis.
Joseph Neguse and David Cicilline acquitted themselves admirably in portraying the Trump case, both in terms of giving historical precedence to impeachment and in terms of the January 6 indictment of incitement to mob violence. The real star, however, was Jamie Raskin, who spoke with passion about the violence of the January 6th uprising and the need for redress. Raskin shared how his daughter and son-in-law visited a colleague and stayed in the office after the Capitol was breached.
“I couldn’t get out of there to be in that office with you,” said Raskin called back. “All around me people were calling their wives and their husbands, their loved ones, to say goodbye. Members of Congress in the House of Representatives removed their congressional pins anyway so they wouldn’t be identified by the crowd as they tried to escape the violence. Our new chaplain stood up and said a prayer for us. And we were told to put on our gas masks. ”
Towards the end of his speech, Raskin said, “This cannot be America’s future. We cannot have presidents who incite and mobilize mob violence against our government and institutions because they refuse to accept the will of the people under the United States Constitution. ”
Bruce Castor Jr., the President’s first attorney, gave a widely mocked presentation reminiscent of a student giving a book review of a text he had not read. Contrary to the carefully measured words of the property managers, Castor seemed to give it wings.
His conversation contain a long and factually dubious Excursus on the importance of the Senate for Republican governance:
The last time a body like the United States Senate, with the responsibilities it has today, sat at the height of government, it was in Athens and Rome. Republicanism, the form of government, republicanism, has always and invariably fallen through history because of internal struggles. Because of the partiality from within. Because of the quarrel from within and in each of the examples I have mentioned, and there are certainly other, probably smaller countries that have taken less time and that I don’t know about, but every single one of them once the vacuum was created that the largest advisory bodies, the Athens-based Senate of Greece, the Senate of Rome, the moment they turned into such partisanship, are not as if they have ceased to exist. They ceased to exist as a representative democracy. Both have been replaced by totalitarianism.
It is difficult to catalog all of the ignorance that lies in this irrelevant chatter: old Senates were not comparable to the modern American Senate; Partiality was only one of the many problems that troubled ancient Athens and Rome; These societies were not representative democracies. and they never succumbed to what can be called totalitarianism.
Castor then gossiped thoughtlessly about politics in Nebraska in a stream of rambling words reminiscent of the classic stream of consciousness of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf, though he completely lacked the poetic lyricism of these writers:
I’ve seen on television for the past few days that the honorable gentlemen from Nebraska, Mr. Sasse, saw that he was facing backlash at home to a vote he took a few weeks ago and that a political party was formed Complained about a decision he made as a United States Senator.
You know, it’s interesting because I don’t want to steal the thunder from the other lawyers, but Nebraska, as you will hear, is a legal think tank, and maybe Senator Sasse is fixated on something. And you will hear what the Nebraska Courts have to say on the subject you are all deciding on this week. There seem to be some pretty clever lawyers in Nebraska, and I can’t believe a United States Senator doesn’t know that.
As bad as Castor was, Trump’s other lawyer, David Schoen, was worse. While Castor emerged from his depths as a little lawyer, Schön spoke more forcefully, but with a frightening undercurrent of menace. Nicely joined the Trumpian line in that the former president was an avatar of the people ravaged by an evil elite. He called the impeachment an attempt to invalidate the democratic rights of 74 million voters.
Nice at one point said“This process will tear this country apart, perhaps in a way that we have only seen once in history.” As Matt Ford of The new republic right RemarksSchön’s “allusion to the civil war” reflects his client’s own dark mindset. During the latest impeachment saga, Trump angrily referred to the process as a “coup” and also hinted that it could lead to a “civil war”. The former president has an unusually open thirst for violence in political contexts that is virtually unprecedented in modern American life. ”
At the end of the day it was voted whether the impeachment was constitutional. All 50 Democrats voted yes. They were joined by six Republicans: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Patrick Toomey and Bill Cassidy. Against these six, 44 Republicans voted for impeachment to be unconstitutional. Of the six, the surprise was Cassidy. The other Republicans had all previously expressed criticism of Trump’s behavior on January 6, and previously voted for the process to continue.
Cassidy explained his voice to reporters quoted the “disorganized, random” portrayal of Trump’s lawyers as a factor. “The problem: is it constitutional to indict a president who has resigned?” he observed. “And the property managers did a compelling, compelling case, and the president’s team didn’t.”
It’s likely that most, if not all, of the 44 Republicans who voted for Trump would approve of Cassidy over the property managers’ superior presentation. A character like Ted Cruz is also really difficult admitted“I do not think that [Trump] Lawyers did the most effective job. “Lindsey Graham also said he wasn’t sure what Trump’s lawyers were getting at. But Graham added Apart from Cassidy, “nobody’s mind has been changed one way or another.”
This means that for most Republicans, partisan affiliation has triumphed over any other consideration. The property managers could facilitate the most effective case, but the vast majority of Republicans just aren’t ready to listen.
This is the parliamentary equivalent of Trump’s notorious boast that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose voters. Senate Republicans say they will tolerate almost any act of a GOP president. If so, then the constitution’s entire impeachment mechanism is controversial, at least when it comes to punishing Republicans.
Trump certainly deserves to be convicted and excluded from holding federal office. But America’s problems go far beyond Trump. One of the two big parties has effectively given up the field of rational debate. If so, America is facing a persistent democratic crisis.