Sarah Kendzior is the co-host of the podcast Gaslit Nation and the author of the upcoming book Hiding in Plain Sight.
We knew it would be a sham trial, with a preordained outcome and a rigged jury. We knew this because the Republican party announced it in advance. “I’m not an impartial juror,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed in December. “This is a political process. There is not anything judicial about it.”
The Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump was never a matter of law. It was always a matter of power. Mr. Trump has openly committed crimes and even confessed to crimes: What is at stake is whether anyone would hold him accountable. The way that Mr. Trump gets out of crimes is not by actually proving his innocence, but by declaring that crimes are not crimes when he commits them. This has been his strategy since his tutelage under the late mafia lawyer Roy Cohn, whose motto “I don’t want to know what the law is, I want to know who the judge is” shapes Mr. Trump’s worldview today.
In the Senate, Mr. Trump is being judged by a jury of his lackeys. The trial is a loyalty test for Republicans, who will decide whether to take their criminal President and crown him criminal king. It is a test of whether they will obey their own abuser: According to CBS, GOP Senators were allegedly warned that those who voted against Mr. Trump will have their heads “on a pike." The choice for Republicans has always been to pledge fealty to the President or leave; a record number of Republican elected officials have retired since Mr. Trump took office.
For Democrats, the trial is a battle against the formalization of the dictatorship to which Mr. Trump has always aspired, and it’s one they wage too late. As I have warned in these pages for years, an autocrat must be stopped early or he will rewrite the law so that he is no longer breaking it. Many officials had the job of holding Mr. Trump accountable – James Comey, Robert Mueller, the Republicans, the Democrats and Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, who sits in the trial like window dressing for the defenestration for democracy – and they have failed to act with the urgency and bravery required. The President does not want to be punished but he loves to get caught. He flaunts every crime he gets away with because it showcases the degradation of law, which ironically was furthered by his opponents’ blind faith in it.
Last week the Senate debated as to whether the trial would be allowed witnesses. This request had an element of saviour syndrome – the delusion that one person, such as the notorious warmonger John Bolton, would swoop in and set the U.S. straight – but it was also an attempt by the Democrats to honour legal precedent. Since Mr. Trump and his backers’ aim is to destroy legal precedent, thus paving the way for one-party autocratic rule, the GOP voted against it.
But the trial still had witnesses.
We, the people, are the witnesses. We witness crimes carried out in plain sight by this government every day. We witness them on TV and we witness them in our daily lives, as ordinary citizens suffer from Mr. Trump’s ceaseless corruption. We are so tired of being witnesses that we feel like a captive audience. But it is important to remain a witness in a time of autocratic consolidation.
The Trump administration does not like witnesses. That is why Mr. Trump spent his whole life intimidating them into silence, whether through NDAs or threats of violence carried out by lawyers such as Michael Cohen. That is why they attack journalists and civil servants and scientists and try to forbid them from sharing facts with the public. It doesn’t feel empowering to be a witness under a regime determined to destroy the very concept of truth. But the truth always matters. If the truth didn’t matter, they wouldn’t work so hard to suppress it.
The gulf between truth and accountability is one of the hardest aspects of living under the Trump administration. We know what happened, and we know that this knowledge will likely not translate into justice. Flagrantly rigged trials are nothing new in the U.S., as any student of black history will tell you. What is new is the capitulation of an entire party to a corrupt president. . We didn’t need another witness to take the stand and tell us that.
We needed officials with the courage to stop him, and we needed them long ago.
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