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Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial was sad but necessary

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 2/14/2021 By Erica Grieder

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz would like you to believe that the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, which ended Saturday with the Senate’s acquittal despite a 57-43 vote to convict, was nothing more than “political theater” perpetrated by Democrats who remain deep in the throes of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

“For four years, congressional Democrats, they’ve been obsessed -- they’ve been consumed with hatred for President Trump. And it defines who the Democratic Party is,” Cruz said in a Tuesday appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show.

“It’s not just that they hate Donald Trump,” Cruz continued, blithely. “They hate the 75 million Americans who voted for him. They’re trying to silence you. They’re trying to cancel you.”

These comments, which Cruz’s staff proudly highlighted in a news release sent out the following day, were disingenuous. Hard to believe, I know.

Our junior senator and other Trump supporters are right about this much: In the short term, it’s hard to imagine that this past week’s Senate trial over his alleged role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot that left a U.S. Capitol Police officer and four others dead — and many more injured — contributing to a sense of unity in the country.

Indeed, the divide between Americans who followed the Senate proceedings and those who didn’t have a chance to, or chose not to, will be a deep one.

If you were in the latter camp, it might be easy to conclude, as Cruz asserted, that the trial was a waste of time during the nation’s worst public health crisis in a century.

After all, it was always unlikely that Trump would be convicted of inciting the riot and seeking to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory. Democrats, who hold 50 seats in the Senate, needed 17 Republicans to vote with them to realize that outcome. Most of the chamber’s Republicans were clearly ambivalent about taking such action against a figure who remains popular, and presumably still powerful, in the GOP. In the end, seven Republicans voted to convict. Cruz and Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn, voted to acquit.

But Americans who did follow Trump’s second impeachment trial this past week saw a wrenching, powerful presentation about this grim chapter in American history.

‘Fight like hell’

The nine House impeachment managers, led by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and including U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, made their case soberly, with no hint of gloating. They were mindful of the fact that the jurors in this trial — the senators — were among the victims of the insurrection, which exposed many of them to genuine danger. And they relied largely on Trump’s own words to make the case that he bears personal responsibility for the day’s events.

Trump had riled up his core supporters for months, they argued, by insisting falsely that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. (Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes and the Electoral College vote 306 to 232 — not close.) Trump continued to fan the flames after thousands of supporters, who had gathered for his Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in front of the White House, marched to the Capitol, at his suggestion, after he encouraged them to “fight like hell.”

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Trump tweeted of his loyal vice president at 2:24 p.m. Eastern time, just minutes after the Secret Service had whisked the vice president and his family out of the Senate chamber for their own safety.

The president then went quiet as crucial minutes ticked by, ignoring pleas from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to intervene personally. Only later in the afternoon did he release a video addressing the rioters directly.

“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace,” Trump said in the message, which he posted on his Twitter account.

“We love you, you’re very special. We’ve seen what happens, you see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel,” he added, a message clearly more sympathetic to the Trump mob than the dedicated police officers who defended the Capitol during an hours-long siege. So much for the law-and-order president who so frequently professed his love for the police.

In a subsequent tweet — one of his last before he was finally banned from Twitter — Trump again expressed sympathy for the insurrectionists, several hundred of whom are now facing federal charges as a result of their actions that day.

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Trump tweeted.

Debate continues

Democrats, obviously, did not impel the former president to behave in this disgraceful fashion, nor did the House impeachment managers at any point suggest that the roughly 74.2 million Americans who voted for Trump last year celebrated his subsequent behavior.

Despite voting to acquit Trump on the grounds that he was no longer president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the idea that “anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters.”

“That is an absurd deflection,” McConnell said in a blistering attack on Trump on the Senate floor after the vote. “Seventy-four million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did. And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it. One person did.”

Cornyn was more cautious. “This trial reminded us that too many public officials, including the president, have used reckless and incendiary speech,” he said in a statement.

Castro, speaking to reporters after the acquittal, said McConnell essentially concurred that House impeachment managers “overwhelmingly proved our case, that substantively Donald Trump is guilty of inciting an insurrection.” He claimed the former president “was let off on a technicality.”

“Even though we didn’t get 67 votes, this has been the most bipartisan vote for impeachment and conviction ever, and we know that we spoke the truth on the Senate floor and the American people by and large agreed with us,” Castro said.

Unlike McConnell, Cruz didn’t lay any of the blame for the Jan. 6 attack on Trump. Cruz reportedly even met privately with Trump’s legal team during the proceedings.

Cruz is free to dismiss the trial as “merely a rushed act of partisan retribution,” as he put it in a statement after voting to let Trump off the hook. Texans shouldn’t expect any better from him, at this point.

But if we are to move forward as a county, it would be helpful if more Republican leaders would behave more honestly, even if doing so would force them to confront some unpleasant realities about the disgraced and twice-impeached former president to whom so many of them still show fealty.

erica.grieder@chron.com

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