After all the hue and cry of the past three years, President Trump has been impeached and is finally on trial in the Senate. It now falls to a vote whether or not he will be removed from office — requiring a two-thirds margin to remove him from office.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former prosecutor, is the leader of the House impeachment managers. Following in the footsteps of Rep. Ben Butler (R-Mass.) from way back in 1868, Schiff presented the case for impeachment on the second day of proceedings in a speech lasting two and a half hours.
Schiff's speech was a straightforward and articulate presentation of not just the airtight case that Trump did indeed attempt to blackmail Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election, but also the fundamental democratic principles that are under threat with him in office. Trump is a clear and present danger to constitutional government in the United States.
Schiff took much of his time to outline the evidence that Trump had indeed tried to blackmail Ukraine into smearing Joe Biden, and into deflecting blame from Russia for interfering in the 2016 election. "President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump's 2020 presidential campaign," he said. "When the Ukrainian president did not immediately assent, President Trump withheld two official acts to induce the Ukrainian leader to comply, a head of state meeting in the Oval Office and military funding."
Schiff carefully went through the ocean of evidence proving this happened — the basic timeline of events, testimony and evidence from Trump's appointees and lackeys, Trump's own statements, and a recent finding from the Government Accountability Office that Trump violated the law by withholding aid. Even after the scheme came to light, Trump still said publicly that Ukraine and China should investigate the Bidens. Even with the administration flagrantly stonewalling the investigation — itself an impeachable offense and a clear indication of a guilty conscience — it's an open-and-shut case.
Schiff also made clear how the Ukraine conspiracy undermines fundamental principles of republican government. The framers of the Constitution "did not intend for the power of impeachment to be used frequently or over mere matters of policy, but they put it in the constitution for a reason," he said. "For a man who would subvert the interest of the nation to pursue his own interests. For a man who would seek to perpetuate himself in office by inviting foreign interference and cheating an election."
This is all fairly obvious when stated outright. However, the basic purpose of the Constitution has largely flown under the radar in coverage of the Trump impeachment. The president is supposed to govern on behalf of "We the People," not use his power to line his pockets or strong-arm foreign countries into serving his own narrow political interests. Indeed, Trump is an object lesson in why tyrannical government is bad. Everywhere you turn, his administration is letting foxes run another henhouse or committing some horrible atrocity.
Of course, it is all but impossible to imagine even a majority of senators voting to convict Trump, much less the two-thirds majority necessary to boot him from office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly promised to work with Trump every step of the way, and used every means at his disposal to get the process over and done with as soon as possible. Only a couple Republican senators have raised so much as a peep of protest about this.
Other Republican senators have complained that the trial has brought up "nothing new," — as if they weren't trying to prevent new testimony, or as if evidence proving someone's guilt doesn't count if it first came to light months ago.
One must conclude that the impeachment process is a fundamental defect in the Constitution. The founders hated the idea of political parties, and assumed that each branch of government would jealously guard its own powers. In reality political parties are absolutely necessary in any democratic system, and American versions sprung up immediately. And the modern Republican Party is so profoundly rotten, so brain-poisoned by shrieking propaganda, that its party loyalty trumps any possible legal or constitutional scruple. Republican senators and representatives do not care that their party's chieftain is committing crimes or trampling all over the powers of Congress. Trump could unhinge his jaw and swallow a baby on live television and Sean Hannity would find a way to blame it on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But impeachment still didn't work in 1868, when an even worse president committed even worse crimes and abuses of power (the key vote to acquit, Sen. Edmund Ross of Kansas, was probably bribed). The parliamentary method of removing a lousy head of government — through a vote of no confidence and new elections — is far, far superior.
Nevertheless, the Constitution is still the law of the land, and impeachment is the process we have for dealing with a criminal president. As Schiff argues, Trump will certainly take acquittal as a license to further undermine American democracy. He "has shown no willingness to be constrained by the rule of law and has demonstrated that he will continue to abuse his power and obstruct investigations into himself causing further damage to the pillars of our democracy if he is not held accountable," Schiff said.
And it is a fairly short step from using U.S. taxpayer money to blackmail a foreign country to simply rigging the 2020 vote outright. Would Republican senators complain if Trump assembled a private militia to take control of polling stations across the country? Or would they lie and dissemble and call it "fake news?" We may live to find out.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was published to clarify that votes of no confidence apply to the head of government, not the head of state.