Trump Learned Nothing. America Learned Everything.
Cowardice, thy name is Republican.
On February 5, Donald Trump became the first American president to receive votes for removal from both the opposition and his own party.
It was also the first time any party in the Senate had unanimously voted to convict and remove a president for high crimes and misdemeanors. In 1999, ten Republicans — including current senators Susan Collins and Richard Shelby — crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats and acquit Clinton. The same was true with the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868. This was the first time an opposition party had all agreed, without defection, that a president needed to be removed to protect the country.
Trump’s survival of the Senate trial was never in question, but the partisan acquittal and bipartisan conviction votes dealt the president a heavy blow. After the Republicans had successfully shut their ears to hearing further incriminating testimony from fellow conservative John Bolton and had quashed attempts to subpoena damning emails, there was widespread anticipation in the GOP that Trump would receive acquittal votes from both parties. Republican lawmakers from the House insisted it was only a matter of how many Democrats would defect. On the Senate floor, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham boldly predicted an “overwhelming” acquittal and vowed revenge on the President’s political enemies.
These hopes were dashed when Utah senator and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stood in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon.
“The grave question the Constitution tasks senators to answer is whether the President committed an act so extreme and egregious that it rises to the level of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor.’
“Yes, he did.
“The President asked a foreign government to investigate his political rival. The President withheld vital military funds from that government to press it to do so. The President delayed funds for an American ally at war with Russian invaders. The President’s purpose was personal and political.
“Accordingly, the President is guilty of an appalling abuse of the public trust.
“What he did was not ‘perfect’ — no, it was a flagrant assault on our electoral rights, our national security interests, and our fundamental values. Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one’s oath of office that I can imagine.
“With my vote, I will tell my children and their children that I did my duty to the best of my ability, believing that my country expected it of me. That I was among the senators who determined that what the President did was wrong, grievously wrong.”
Romney would go on, just hours later, to vote “Guilty” on abuse of power but “Not Guilty” on obstruction of Congress. It was a bold move for a freshman senator whose constituents have a lower approval of him than of Trump.
Romney’s example was ignored by centrist Republicans Lisa Murkowski, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, and Lamar Alexander, who all admitted that Trump’s actions were wrong and illegal but nevertheless declined to vote against him. In her statement, Susan Collins declared that she believed Trump had “learned his lesson” and probably wouldn’t try to extort another foreign country for political assistance again. When pressed by Fox’s Martha MacCallum, she tempered her statement again, saying she only hoped he would learn his lesson.
Of course, this is the most wishful sort of thinking.
There is not a scintilla of evidence that the President has any appreciation whatsoever for the seriousness of his actions. He has never admitted fault, never shown contrition, never promised caution. Trump continues to insist that the “transcript” shows a “perfect call” and that he did nothing wrong whatsoever.
Just minutes after the final vote, I received this absurd fundraising email:
In his closing arguments, House manager Adam Schiff said it best:
“Do we really have any doubt about the facts here? Does anybody really question whether the President is capable of what he’s charged with? No one is really making the argument — ‘Donald Trump would never do such a thing’ — because of course we know that he would, and of course we know that he did.
“We must say, enough! He has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency matters not at all. You are decent. He is not.”
Despite the delusions of Republicans who voted to acquit, there is no possibility that Trump learned anything at all from the impeachment and trial. But that doesn’t mean it was a waste. Trump may not have learned anything, but America did.
America learned about Donald Trump.
America learned that this president sees nothing wrong with auctioning American domestic and foreign policy to the highest bidder in exclusive private-donor events.
America learned that Trump has no problem with bribing a corrupt foreign oligarch to lie about an American citizen by railroading and removing another American citizen — a hero, even — from her post.
America learned that Trump will immediately fire anyone who might otherwise serve as a check to his basest instincts.
America learned Trump believes the Constitution will let him do whatever he wants.
America learned that Trump holds grudges, takes everything personally, and will demand political favors from anyone he thinks might have slighted him.
America learned that Trump will believe any conspiracy theory he is spoon-fed, no matter how absurd or counterfactual.
America learned that no number of warnings, cautions, or alarms from public servants can make Trump hesitate even a moment before breaking the law.
America learned that Trump “doesn’t give a shit” about our allies, but only cares about the “big stuff” that will help keep him in power.
America learned that Trump will lie about anything and everything, minute by minute, second by second, no matter how contradictory or counterfactual or plainly false his statements are.
America learned about Republicans.
America learned that the Republican party is full of feckless, craven cowards who will lash out and deflect and join in the president’s narrative without concern for the truth, just to scramble for the crumbs of cultish affection that dribble off his chins.
America learned that the Republicans who shouted the loudest about Trump’s innocence — Devin Nunez, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson — were complicit in the Ukraine scheme all along.
America learned that Senate Republicans think lying about a blowjob is a high crime but extorting bribes from a foreign leader is a president’s prerogative.
America learned that Senate Republicans will admit they are not impartial jurors with one breath while swearing an oath to do impartial justice with the next.
America learned that Senate Republicans are willing to say the House proved Trump abused his power but unwilling to hold him accountable for it.
America learned that the Trump White House trades foreign aid for political leverage “all the time” and that we should “get over” it.
America learned that GOP Senators will watch idly as an attorney who literally witnessed Trump asking Bolton to assist in his scheme will stand in the well and claim there were no witnesses.
America learned Trump’s defenders will even claim that any political quid pro quo the President asks for is legal as long as he sincerely believes his re-election will help the country.
America learned that the President’s lawyers would rather invent and pursue discredited conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and his son than address the material reality of the charges against him.
America learned all of this. But America learned something about itself, too.
America learned that when powerful men break the law, our dedicated public servants are brave enough to stand up and do something about it.
America learned that bravery means speaking out and telling the truth when those in power order you to keep silent.
America learned that Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Chuck Schumer, and the rest of the Democrats in Congress were willing to do the right thing even when it cost them political capital.
America learned that our values demand we tell the truth about right and wrong, even when there is no chance of winning the battle.
America learned that Doug Jones, Kyrsten Sinema, Dianne Feinstein, and Joe Manchin were unwilling to bend the knee to a tyrant, despite knowing it could cost them their careers.
America learned that no one is above the law.
And America learned that if we can clean the Republican Party of its dross, there might just be something left worth salvaging.
David MacMillan is a freelance writer, paralegal, and law student in Washington, DC. He writes about science, politics, and culture as he finishes his book about his departure from creationist science denial.