Republican Senators Just Sold Out Democracy

Republican Senators Just Sold Out Democracy

Republican Senators Just Sold Out Democracy

By acquitting Trump, Republicans handed the president nearly unlimited power—and revealed the extent of their venality.


The Republican Party has acquitted President Donald Trump. That result was always the most likely outcome of the impeachment process. The inability of even 20 Republican senators to break free from the cult of Trump was widely assumed.

But it didn’t have to go down like this. In their desire to appease a president all of them know to be a serial malefactor, Republicans adopted wild and discredited legal theories of executive power and privilege. To acquit a president, they crowned a king.

We should not be shocked that they’ve done this. Republicans feel empowered to free the president from all constraints because they never intend to be subjected to a Democratic president armed with these new powers. Republicans think they’re on the cusp of locking in one-party control of the government. Their solution to the demographic changes that will soon see us become a majority-minority country is to forge a new theory of government, in which minority white rule can withstand the popular will.

All of the Republican strategies work to accomplish this. They suppress nonwhite voters and gerrymander districts. They protect and defend an Electoral College that functions to elevate the voting power of whites in low-population states over the will of popular majorities. And they have now explicitly authorized the president to use foreign influence to corrupt and steal elections, on the theory that the reelection of that president, by definition, is in the best interests of the nation. These are not the actions of a party trying to win political power; they’re the actions of a party trying to exclude anybody else from having it.

The very last question Republican senators asked of Trump’s lawyers during the trial gave away the whole game. Senators Mike Braun and Mike Lee asked if Joe Biden’s alleged involvement in the Biden-Burisma conspiracy theory while vice president was impeachable. Trump’s lawyers said yes. Having spent two weeks arguing that Trump could not be impeached for abuse of power or obstruction of Congress, attorney Patrick Philbin deadpanned that Biden could be impeached, under their theory.

The question and answer were threats: Should Trump fail to steal the next election, Republicans will do everything they can to impeach the Democratic winner. Should the Electoral College fail to produce a Republican president, they will do everything they can to impeach the Democratic winner.

And should Trump and the Republicans somehow manage to lose the White House and the Senate, despite the structural and criminal advantages they’ve given themselves, never forget who was presiding over this farce of a “trial”: Chief Justice John Roberts, leader of the Republican majority on the Supreme Court. Any policy executed by popularly elected Democrats will be subject to review by federal courts stacked with conservative judges. These people are winning and intend to keep winning, forever.

In the face of the overwhelming power now held by conservatives, our only choice is to stick together. The impeachment trial has laid bare this reality with devastating clarity. Democrats, progressives, socialists, never-Trumpers, and any other left-of-fascist groups must live together—or die separately.

The coming election is our last stand against a party determined never to lose again. I believe that stand will be made more powerful by a candidate willing to fight the Republicans, not one trying to compromise with them. But any Democratic presidential candidate is electable, any Democratic senatorial nominee is viable, so long as people understand how dangerous the Republican Party has become and act accordingly.

Trump survived impeachment because the moderate and radical wings of the Republican Party held fast to their one true goal: defeating democracy. If the rest of us would like to save democracy, we better have the same singular focus.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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