“Shall any man be above justice?” American founding father George Mason once asked his fellows during a 1787 discussion on the importance of the impeachment remedy. “… Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his [office] in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”
Two centuries, three decades, and three years later, a majority of US senators have an answer: “Yes.”
‘A Great American Tragedy’
In 2016, Donald Trump and his campaign corruptly sought the Russian government’s assistance in winning the presidential election. His son and top campaign officials met in Trump Tower with a Kremlin lawyer who offered to help go after his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Other campaign officials had numerous interactions with Russians, even as the country carried out an attack on the US election system, hacking the Democratic National Committee and using social media to target and sabotage the Republican nominee’s opponent with lies, half-truths, and innuendo.
Trump once even publicly asked for Russia’s help: “Russia, if you’re listening…,” he began, before asking Russia to help find Clinton’s “missing emails.” Hours later, Russian hackers, for the first time, began attempting to gain access to his Democratic rival’s personal email system.
More than three years after he first corruptly procured his office, the US House impeached him for, once again, seeking a foreign government’s assistance in an election. This time, though, Donald Trump illegally used vital, congressionally appropriated military aid as leverage to extort an ally, Ukraine, into doing his dirty work for him. The US would only release the aid that Ukraine needed to defend against Russian aggressors, Trump said, if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would agree to announce a sham investigation into Joe Biden, who Trump saw as his likely 2020 Democratic rival.
“Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?,” George Mason asked.
On Friday, Donald Trump has indeed suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt. Not only are Republican senators allowing Trump to get away with what legal scholars and a former Watergate prosecutor call the most serious action a president has ever been impeached for, but they are doing so after refusing to even hear testimony from key witnesses with first-hand knowledge of his crimes—witnesses like former US National Security Adviser John Bolton.
It is unlikely that Bolton’s testimony would have changed the mind of any US senators. As Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander admitted, Democrats had proven Trump’s guilt “with what they call a ‘mountain of overwhelming evidence.'” There is “no need,” he said, “for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven.” The US Senate, does not have the right, he claimed, to remove a president to stop him from trying to rig an election, Alexander said.
“I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday,” Alexander said without a hint of irony, as he rewarded Trump with ten more months to continue in his efforts to steal that same election.
Republican US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida had a slightly different take: Trump’s actions are impeachable, but the Republican president should not be removed from office.
“Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interests of the country to remove a president from office,” Rubio said.
Not only does Trump’s Department of Justice claim that presidents cannot be charged with crimes (a claim that is not in the Constitution), but a slim majority of the US Senate—whether because of cowardice or craven complicity—now contends that corrupt presidents should not even have to suffer the indignity of a real impeachment trial that includes things like witnesses and evidence.
Donald Trump could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and that would be okay, because presidents, we now know, are above the law.
US Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith recently called Trump’s impeachment “a great American tragedy.” In a system where executives are above the law, that would be true. Today, the US Senate declared that we have such a system, and that Donald Trump is no longer merely America’s president; Donald Trump is America’s king.
‘When You’re a King…’
If the American people disagree with the US Senate’s declaration that the president is, indeed, a monarch, they have one remedy left. In November, a majority may be able to vote him off his throne—along with his co-conspirators in the Senate.
But the American monarch, a vulgar man who once starred in his own “reality” TV show, will find himself feeling vindicated now that the US Senate has affirmed The Divine Rights of Trump. Henceforth, he will believe, more assuredly than ever, that he has the power to do as he pleases, much like the man not-named-Trump whom he most admires—Russian President Vladimir Putin.
US Senate Majority Mitch McConnell orchestrated a sham trial and a false exoneration which shed any doubt that a majority of the chamber cares a whit about their oaths of office or about holding their party’s supreme leader to account. And King Donald Trump knows it.
Even if a majority of Americans once again vote to reject him in November, there is no longer any guarantee that their votes will be enough to overcome Trump’s desperate desire to win at all costs. After the US Senate’s partisan betrayal of American democracy, there is no guarantee that Americans will be allowed to opt for a president instead of a king.
This year, Americans who believe in democracy will have to fight like hell to protect their ability to choose their own leaders, not only from a megalomaniacal ruler who would trample every last shred of the Constitution underfoot in order to maintain his hold on power, but also from a depraved and servile Senate that would gladly mutilate it on his behalf. American voters truly are the last line of defense.
With the US Senate’s blessing, Trump now believes that he can do anything he wants, no matter how wickedly corrupt, to win the 2020 election—and that no one will stop him.
When you’re a king, they let you do it.
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