Opinion: Trump’s acquittal reflects lasting effects of political power

Raghav Raj | Staff Writer

 On February 13, just over a month after violent right-wing insurrectionists stormed the Capitol building, the second impeachment of former President Donald J. Trump came to an unceremonious, all-too-predictable end. Though a majority of the Senate — by a 57-43 vote — voted for Trump’s conviction, there weren’t enough votes to reach the supermajority needed to convict, acquitting Trump of any responsibility for the events that unfolded on January 6.

Essentially, Trump departs from the Oval Office having wiped his hands clean of the genuine horror that unfolded on his command at the Capitol building that day. He, to the fullest extent of the law, has fully been absolved for any responsibility related to the unrest — five dead and over 140 injured — his militant, far-right horde caused when they barged into the Capitol building on his command.

For many, this sort of gross, blatant miscarriage of justice feels like a damning indictment all on its own, both for Trump and for the Republican Party that all-too-eagerly defended him at every step, even when he put their lives in direct danger. Some have labeled it a nail in the casket for the GOP, the endpoint where conservatism evolves into Trumpism (which, from the looks of it, have gradually become one and the same over these four years). In a New Yorker op-ed released just after the Senate vote, columnist David Remnick boldly proclaimed that “History Will Find Trump Guilty,” a sentiment that I’ve increasingly seen appear on news site after news site.

But quite frankly, no matter how often it’s echoed, I don’t really think that sentiment rings true.

I genuinely can’t bring myself to truly think that history will find Trump guilty, not when the grand tradition of American politics is to greatly ignore the egregious, immense wrongs of its leaders. I don’t think that Trump or the hatred he and his wing of the GOP have fomented will — at least, for the time being — receive any sort of real, lasting consequence for the harm they’ve done and continue to do.

Mainly, as my evidence for this, I’ll present the case of the closest analogue to Trump in modern American politics: Richard Nixon, a man whose presidency was equally marked with gratuitous scandal and a disgraceful end.

In the case of Nixon, when Watergate occurred and proof of his role in the cover-up was revealed, the instinctive reaction of the Republican Party was to excise the corrupt man in the White House forcefully and with purpose. Any of the 10 Republicans who had originally voted against impeachment on the House Judiciary Committee were immediately swayed by the evidence on the tapes, and all vowed to support impeachment. Eventually, when Nixon realized the Senate was just as eager to remove him, he departed in shame, a black mark that the Republican Party cast aside and forged ahead without.

That’s not the case with today’s Republican Party in relation to Trump, however, a man the party continues to eagerly hitch their platform onto, no matter how deeply harmful his rhetoric may be. By choosing not to level consequences on Trump, to not cast him aside the way the party did with Nixon, the Republicans are making a statement in support of Trump, of his actions and his gross misdeeds. In ensuring that they stand by his side, they continue allowing space for his rhetoric to thrive, for his wrongdoings to be ignored, for history to cast his mistakes to the wayside.