The United States made official Wednesday what every member of Congress knew was a foregone conclusion when the House of Representatives launched a formal impeachment inquiry last Sept. 24.
President Donald Trump was acquitted on two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress.
The votes themselves were predictable, since a two-thirds vote was needed to convict, with all but one Republican voting for acquittal and all Democrats voting for conviction.
Although the country's Founding Fathers thought impeachment important enough to enshrine it in the Constitution, they also feared its use as a political exercise. It was important, they stressed, that impeachment not be broached unless it had bipartisan backing.
This one did not. No House Republican voted in favor of the impeachment articles.
In its nearly 244-year history, the country has had three presidents impeached, including two in the past 25 years. All three were largely political exercises, and all three presidents were acquitted.
When President Bill Clinton was found not guilty of the charges against him 21 years ago this month, he had less than two years to serve in his second term. Trump has less than a year to go in his term but could be elected to a second term in November.
"Clinton certainly felt the scarlet letter of impeachment," Julian Epstein, a former chief Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, said in a 2018 Atlantic article. "He was embarrassed and ashamed, for sure, and he felt like it had really hurt his second term."
Trump, on the other hand, is likely to wear impeachment like a war wound. He'll remind voters on the campaign trail of the partisan putsch perpetrated against him. He'll bring up the names Nadler and Schiff and — just as crowds at his rallies reach their fever pitch of outrage — he'll add the name of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who unceremoniously tore up her copy of the president's Tuesday State of the Union message in full view of cameras just as he finished it.
As we wrote frequently over the last year, since Democrats took control of the House in 2018, they could not keep themselves from impeaching the president, even with the speaker's initial strong advice against it. Sore from their candidate — the wife of the last president impeached — losing in one of the biggest upsets in the country's history, they had to avenge that defeat. They'd promised since the night he was elected.
Unfortunately, as we also wrote, piling on Trump — who'd had to an endure a two-year, partisan special counsel's investigation in which Democrats accused of him of being a traitor and worse — only made him a sympathetic figure to many. His opponents never understood that. They may not understand it now.
Ironically, today, a day after his acquittal, the president is at perhaps the strongest point in his presidency. His approval in a Gallup poll is at its highest level since he took office. More than 95% of Republicans approve of the job he's doing. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in the poll believe he is handling the economy well.
The economic good news continued Wednesday when it was reported 291,000 private payroll jobs were added in January, almost 150,000 more than were expected and the best monthly gain since May 2015.
The State of the Union address allowed Trump to ennumerate some of the good job and employment numbers. On the same day, Democrats were reeling from the embarrassment of the lack of results from their first-in-the-nation primary caucus in Iowa. And polls showed most if not all of their candidates would not beat Trump in a head to head race in the fall, including in Tennessee.
Going forward, the best outcome of the conclusion of the impeachment saga would be the president inviting leaders of both parties to the White House and suggesting they work on some of the nation's priorities together. Infrastructure, education, immigration and trade are subjects he mentioned in his speech on which both parties could work.
As the leader of the country, it is incumbent upon him to do the asking. We hope he will. If he does that, Democrats will have a choice. They can take the extended olive branch or continue to resist him. They would do the latter at their peril.
Most Americans believe in giving people a fair shake. Most don't believe Trump — in spite of himself — has gotten one. If they see that continuing between now and November, they'll almost surely give the president four more years to see if he'll ever get that fair shake.