The fact that the Senate acquitted former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection is a stain on America’s most prestigious legislative body. The facts were plain. But more than a stain, the Senate has a sickness as well.
Of the 100 jurors who heard Trump’s impeachment case, at least 16 were more co-conspirators in Trump’s efforts to overturn a free and fair election than they were independent judges.
Eight voted last month to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory — the precise outcome the Trump-inspired insurrectionists sought when they left his rally and marched to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rick Scott of Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama attempted to derail America’s centuries-old experiment in democracy.
Violating constitutional oaths
Five of the same members and six more signed onto Cruz’s letter urging an emergency investigation of Trump’s false allegations, after which states would be allowed to change their Electoral College votes, a move that would have discarded the views of millions of Americans. Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Steve Daines of Montana, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Mike Braun of Indiana and Bill Hagerty, also of Tennessee, were fine with stripping millions of Americans of the right to vote based on false allegations that had already been dismissed in more than 60 court rulings, many of which came from judges whom Trump himself had appointed.
Others spread Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen through their actions or words.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said plainly in a congressional hearing that the election “in many ways was stolen.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and pressured him to change votes in the state that Biden narrowly won — a call state officials now are looking into. They helped build the delusional belief among the insurrectionists that Trump was the legitimate winner, a cause for which they were willing to assault lines of police and threaten the lives of congressmembers and then-Vice President Mike Pence.
These 16 jurors, who were not impartial, are guilty of violating their constitutional oaths and attempting to take the nation down a dictatorial path with an unelected president. All of them voted to acquit Trump of attempting to derail a peaceful transfer of power, an act in which they all played a role.
The Senate’s authoritarian caucus
While Saturday’s disappointing 57-43 vote on impeachment leaves Trump free to play a part in America’s politics in the future, he is out of office and silenced on social media, so his opportunities for perfidy are limited. That’s not true for the Senate’s authoritarian caucus and for a similar group of more than 100 members in the House of Representatives. Both maintain significant power in a closely divided Congress as President Biden works to restore constitutional guardrails dismantled during the Trump administration. An authoritarian sickness remains at the center of the nation’s politics even in Trump’s elective absence.
The fact that such a large share of the legislative branch is opposed to America’s democratic form of government is a shocking disgrace, but it is also a threat. Trump is out of office, but as the vote shows, the United States is not free of Trumpism.