And so ends, with the acquittal of Donald Trump on impeachment charges, a chapter in American politics and jurisprudence that is destined in the courtroom of history to be seen as shameful.
It ended with a president freed on account of all his Senate colleagues, save one, being afraid to challenge him.
It ended with the reputation of the United States Senate, having barred witnesses from testifying at the impeachment trial, battered.
It ended with an unchastened and unrepentant Mr. Trump vindictively sending out a meme suggesting he should be president forever. And the next day calling his political opponents, specifically Congressman Adam Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “vicious and horrible people.” And for good measure, “evil” and “corrupt.”
It ended with Mitt Romney, the lone Republican Senator who had the fortitude to pronounce Mr. Trump guilty, being savaged by the pro-Trump banshees of the far right. He’s “a bitter sanctimonious weasel,” bellowed Breitbart News.
In his rousingly patriotic State of the Union address the evening before the impeachment verdict, Mr. Trump pronounced the United States as being in its greatest state ever – this while awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, the race-baiting talk radio blowhard who once compared Barack Obama to Hitler.
Prior to the address, Mr. Trump refused to shake the hand of Ms. Pelosi. In what had the look of a calculated publicity stunt, she responded by childishly tearing up his speech. It was “a manifesto of mistruths,” she complained, as if anything different had been anticipated from the falsifier-in-chief.
At the trial, Grand Old Party senators were under extreme pressure to vote as commanded. CBS News reported a Trump confidant saying they were warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” The White House complained it was fake news, a missquote. Maybe so. Maybe the source had said platter instead of pike.
Republicans weren’t the only toadies in town. Every Democrat was a doormat for leadership dictate as well. Not one Democrat broke with the party line on the impeachment articles, even though the case could be made that the second article, obstruction of Congress, was highly debatable given the precedents of executive privilege. Mr. Romney voted guilty on the first article, abuse of power, but “not guilty” on the second.
The Democrats’ credibility has hardly been at a high point. As the trial vote took place Wednesday, the party was still trying to figure out how to count ballots from the Iowa caucuses that were held Monday.
But at the trial, it was clearly the Republicans who were triumphant in the debasement sweepstakes. Jeff Flake, the former Republican senator from Arizona, revealed the degree to which his party members were terrorized by what boss Trump might do to them if they spoke their minds. If there were secret ballots, he said, at least 35 Republican senators would have voted to convict. Such a number would have been enough to remove him from office.
On the Ukraine file, the evidence of extortion by the President and his men was not just from adversaries but from White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton – neither of whom was allowed to testify – and an array of public servants.
The trial’s one saving moment of grace was Mr. Romney’s act of conscience and courage. “I swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice,” he announced on the Senate floor. “I am profoundly religious. My faith is at the heart of who I am.”
Mr. Trump came back at him at prayer breakfast Thursday. “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” he said.
The Romney vote to convict deprived Mr. Trump of being able to claim that it was strictly a partisan impeachment. In the coming weeks, there is a good chance new incriminatory evidence will be revealed, perhaps from a book being published by Mr. Bolton, making the Senate’s action look even more disreputable.
But there can be no appeal of the verdict. It’s done, and Mr. Trump and his legions will move on, boasting of how the state of the American union has never been better.
“We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago ...,” the President said in his big speech, his Republicans leaping to their feet with applause at most every phrase.
“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline.”