A show trial with no reason to watch
Trump's second impeachment trial won’t have the one thing that would have made it interesting
April is never the cruelest month, for the very simple reason that football season ends in February. With the important exception of NASCAR fans, the American people have nothing to look forward to as we approach Lent until March 18, when the NCAA tournament is set to begin.
Meanwhile the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, which will commence on Tuesday morning, is going to be a boring fait accompli. I say this not only because Democrats will not have anything close to the 67 votes necessary to convict the former president (and, at least in theory, bar him from holding federal office) but because Trump himself has announced that he will play no part in the proceedings.
What a shame. From a legal perspective Trump's refusal to testify is a no-brainer. But for the American people it's nothing short of a tragedy. Why not turn the Senate phase of impeachment into a massive O.J. Simpson trial-like spectacle, complete with celebrity lawyers and some kind of instantly memorable and hilarious prop (for some reason I picture Trump carrying a sword, or perhaps an eagle)? Instead of something that journalists will tweet about, a Senate trial in which Trump answered questions from Wacky Jacky and Pat "No Tariffs" Toomey and Corrupt Kaine would be a genuine cultural and political event drawing hundreds of millions of viewers to cable television, which is almost certainly on the edge of a massive ratings cliff.
We all know why this is the case. Republicans in the Senate have made it clear that there will be enough votes to acquit him. Meanwhile, Trump's lawyers have made the not exactly surprising calculation that Trump on the witness stand would probably say things he (or at least they) would come to regret.
My question is: So what? Is there really anything that Trump could say that would change the minds of the 45 GOP senators who already voted not to proceed with the trial in the first place? Their stated position (which is supported by hundreds of years of legal reasoning) is that Trump's words on and before January 6 did not even approach the legal definition of "incitement." Pretending otherwise would, as Rand Paul has pointed out, leave most politicians of either party open to impeachment if the standards were applied consistently. While impeachment proceedings are not of course criminal, it doesn't seem to me obvious that the standard for hypothetical non-criminal incitement should be lower.
All of which is to say that Republicans are eager to get this process over as quickly as they can. They have serious business to return to, like inventing very important arguments for why $2,000 as opposed to $1,400 individual stimulus checks would bankrupt the country and decrying the horrors of cancel culture. What Trump appears to have accepted is the premise that he has anything better to do with his time than to force himself back into the public eye at a time when he has been almost forcibly excluded (at least directly) from every major organ of public opinion in the country. What better place to begin his re-election campaign (or his pitch for a new party or his career as Senate GOP kingmaker or whatever it is that he plans to do) than with the kind of reality T.V. extravaganza in which he will be more comfortable than all the other participants combined?
Instead of an amusing week-long festival of innocence, with a freewheeling Trump throwing around insults amid alternating cries of horror and approbation from the free world, we are going to have a few days of tedious back and forth, interminably boring proceedings whose outcome is not remotely in doubt.
March cannot come quickly enough.