• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Donald Trump Acquitted In The Senate

On Saturday, the verdict of former president Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment trial was delivered.

After a mere four days of oral arguments and televisual recordings, a hasty half-week into which every type of grandiloquent denunciation and vehement defense was tightly compressed, the House Managers failed to convince a requisite two-thirds of the Senate of what they deemed to be Mr. Trump’s irrefragable guilt.

Shall we remind ourselves, if only briefly, of the crime of which the former real estate magnate and Republican president was accused? This most essential component of the story feels as though it were an indistinct grain of sand buried in the vastness of a desert still boiling hot. If it dallies in presenting itself to your busy memory, a finite space into which, day after day, so much news and outrage is densely packed, you can be forgiven. Expiation need not be sought, for this is a shortcoming to which even the brightest of minds and least distracted of observers will inevitably succumb.

Mercifully, the crime of which Mr. Trump was alleged was but one, yet, despite its unusually singular existence, it carried with it considerable weight. The sole offense with which the former president was charged, on which, at least for a fleeting moment, the undisclosed direction of his political future and personal ambition seemed to hinge, was “incitement to insurrection”.

None was under the illusion that this would be an easy article to prove and, had sharper minds applied the trenchant acuity of their wit, and had cooler passions guided the celebrated accuracy of their pointed legal spears, they might’ve helped their own cause by choosing an alternative. They might’ve accused the former president of any number of unpardonable indiscretions or gross misdeeds, like his solicitation of fellow Republicans Mike Pence, Brad Raffensperger, and Brian Kemp to criminal activity, or his attempt to excite odium against a government—our government—from which, at the urging of the people’s suffrage, he was soon to take his leave.

Suffering from no deficiency in men and women deeply read in the law, the House must’ve considered these as potential, supplementary articles with which to impeach Mr. Trump. Even if its members were unwilling to abandon the “incitement” charge to which their great endeavor seemed unwaveringly to be fixed, there’s no reason why the other two couldn’t have gained admission on to their short and, as we’ve come to know it, unpropitious list.

Thoughtful and, for the most part, articulate arguments were forwarded by both sides. The House Managers, led by Maryland’s Jamie Raskin, sought to establish the direct and mobilizing influence that Mr. Trump exercised over the rioters. Untainted by the knowledge that these ruffians were converging on the Capitol Building prior to the end of the president’s hour-long speech, and that, as averred, he was the force by which their barbarity was animated, it was only at a great and unbridgeable distance, one might be persuaded by their claim.

That important fact, however, wasn’t overlooked by the former president’s defense. It made a point, as expected, to remind that august body sitting in judgment that Mr. Trump, far from inciting violence, exhorted his many followers “to peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard. This line alone, uttered toward the end of his speech, might be enough to exculpate even the meanest rogue motivated by the foulest temperament. The only crime, it appears, of which Mr. Trump might genuinely be accused, is having injured our language by splitting a helpless infinitive.

Such a crime, though, enjoys no applicability here. It’s better deferred to a grammatical court, the type of literary tribunal over which, with dulcet eloquence and Rhadamanthine steel, a king of words, such as the infallible Dr. Samuel Johnson, might preside.

Another shortcoming of the House Managers’ case, on which Mr. Trump’s defense team was not only ready, but eager to pounce, was their heavy reliance on secondary sources. They made continual reference to unnamed parties and anonymous “know-it-alls” to whom Mr. Trump was assumed, in some meaningful and legally relevant way, to be close. By and large, they collected these sources from unverified media reports, the kind of chatter by which the appetites of curious readers are excited, but the bland palates of juries are unmoved.

Sensing that their case was becoming unsustainably feeble—particularly in the absence of any human witnesses—the Democrats suggested that these very people be called. Their Republican colleagues somewhat surprisingly agreed. The upshot was that, necessarily, the trial would be extended for an indefinite period of time, perhaps until the later months of the spring. At least for the moment, none thought this an inconvenience with which they couldn’t deal, and all prepared themselves for the lengthened timeline.

No sooner had they resolved to call witnesses than, in the blink of an eye, their opinion changed. With a display of caprice, frankly, unbecoming of so resolute and decisive a body, the idea was discarded just as quickly as it was entertained. Witnesses, they declared, would no longer be welcome.

All that remained was a collection of the vote. A majority voted in favor of convicting Mr. Trump of having “incited an insurrection”, but, as our Constitution tells us, a simple majority would not suffice. Seven Republicans joined fifty Democrats, when seventeen, all told, were needed.

Thus, a second chapter of the Trump presidency closed in a familiar manner: he was acquitted by the Senate.

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