When it's all over, when the Senate has acquitted former President Donald Trump of the impeachment charge against him, how will Democrats console themselves?
What will they have gained? What will Americans have gained? How will Democrats justify spending time on such an exercise in futility when so many of their fellow citizens are struggling in the midst of a global pandemic? What new pound of flesh will they believe they have extracted from the 45th president? What sort of unity do they imagine will come from what they've done?
We have been clear on our thoughts about Trump's Jan. 6 speech to thousands of people who came to Washington to protest what they believed — and what the former president claimed — was a stolen election. It was inflammatory and unnecessary.
However, we don't believe that the then-president expected one person, much less hundreds, would attempt to break through barricades surrounding the Capitol and interrupt the joint session of Congress that was underway or about to be underway as he spoke.
After four years of Trumpspeak, everyone in Washington, D.C., and everyone who supported him should have recognized the hyperbole he used in his speech that day.
"If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore" wasn't encouraging a physical fight. "We will never give up. We will never concede" didn't mean he wasn't going to give up the presidency. And "we will stop the steal" didn't mean he expected one protester, or many, to broach the Capitol and find some way to reverse his electoral fortunes.
The same was true when Trump said "we're going to walk down to the Capitol." He probably hoped the protesters would mass around the building and that those inside would notice how many people had interrupted their lives to come to Washington because they believed there was some amount of election fraud.
The problem is, some people didn't understand his speech as hyperbole. Some heard it as a literal call to action.
The Senate impeachment trial, which starts today, is likely to feature those in Trump's defense presenting statements from the last four years in which the likes of then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, former presidential candidate and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, among others, used words against Trump and Republicans that some might have interpreted as calls to violent action.
As vicious as their words were when spoken, we want to believe those politicians weren't actually calling for violence, either.
And, of course, there also were these words in the speech from Trump: "[P]eacefully and patriotically make your voices heard."
It's difficult to make a case with the former president's other words but to throw out the latter.
Meanwhile, the outcome of the trial is practically a foregone conclusion. Forty-five Republicans senators voted last month that impeachment of a president no longer in office is unconstitutional. Twelve of those would have to change their minds, join with 48 Democrats, two independents and the five Republicans who said such a trial is constitutional to convict Trump.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, called the procedure "a partisan farce" on "Fox News Sunday.
"Zero chance of conviction," he said to the possibility of the necessary 67 votes being gathered.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, on the same Fox News show, acknowledged his colleague was making a reasonable point.
"I admit this is of course a matter of first impression," he said, "and so I don't think the case that Sen. [Rand] Paul is making is a ridiculous one," he said.
Trump's first impeachment, just about a year ago, had about the same chance of conviction.
Democrats, who control the United States House by a scant few representatives and the Senate only by virtue of the vice president being of the same party, had other ways to go this time.
They could have gloated that Trump left the presidency on Jan. 20, with the Capitol insurrection in which a handful of people died being what people would remember about his last days in office. In that, they could hope that what good he did during his term — and it was significant — would be forgotten because of what happened two weeks before he left.
They could have censured him while he still was in office. Since his first impeachment was seen as such an overtly political act, a censure might have made more sense to all of the American people and might have drawn a good many Republican votes.
In the end, Democrats chose to plow forward with an impeachment trial, once thought to be the most severe consequence for an elected federal official. This week, as Trump's trial goes forward, don't be surprised that many Americans just say "ho hum."
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