This week’s writing prompt, Write an Unbiased Essay on Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial, was extremely challenging. Why? Because our deeply partisan situation in the United States, further propagated by a deeply partisan Congress and other deeply partisan public and civic leaders, makes an inherently political impeachment trial, well… deeply political. Not necessarily fair or just. And a deeply political trial is challenging to write about without referring to or alluding to biased, deeply partisan party politics or rhetoric because partisan politics and rhetoric is its lifeblood.
Below is the draft of my unbiased essay on Trump’s second impeachment trial. It’s unbiased because it doesn’t include references to political parties, or include overtly political or rhetorical terms or phrases—which also ended up making this essay short and difficult to write. Because without such political references and rhetorical language, there ultimately isn’t too much to say about an inherently political trial. Or is there?
A Short Essay On Trump’s Second Impeachment Trial
On February 9, 2021, last week, the 117th Congress of the United States began impeachment trial proceedings for former President Donald J. Trump. Trump was charged with “incitement of insurrection” of the U.S. Capitol that took place on January 6, 2021, according to Article I of House Resolution 24 for impeachment passed by the House of Representatives. [Source]
Trump’s second impeachment trial ended on February 13, 2021, with Trump acquitted of the charges laid against him for inciting the insurrection at the Capitol that took place on January 6, 2021. The acquittal of Trump in this particular impeachment trial was inevitable for one main reason: the trial itself was inherently political and held partisan Members as jurors— Members who were each politically swayed and politically invested in the outcome of the trial, with a majority of jurors deciding on their vote and ensuring their vote of conviction or acquittal prior to and during the trial itself.
The Senate impeachment trial proceedings themselves and how they were conducted were constitutional, which is why they were able to take place and did take place, with the entire world watching. Past precedent and outcomes of previous impeachment trials, as well as the words of the Constitution itself, dictate this. [Source]
However, the impeachment trial proceedings themselves didn’t demand an impartial outcome or fair verdict.
Some Members of the Senate jury were meeting with Trump’s Defense team during impeachment trial proceedings and declared they would acquit him before the trial started. [Source] And some Members of the Senate jury pledged their support of Impeachment Managers’ decisions during impeachment trial proceedings prior to Managers’ decisions being officially disclosed. [Source] And all of this was technically legal and even expected, which is why it was all done publicly and unabashedly.
Ultimately, the question of whether Trump’s second impeachment trial was a fair and just trial is tantamount to consider when jurors are openly aligning themselves with the prosecution team or the defense team during or prior to trial proceedings, where they are directly influencing and directing, as well as benefiting from, the outcome of the trial due to invested political interests and biases before hearing and weighing evidence as jurors impartially, which jurors are obligated and expected to do in any other type of trial.
In any other case being tried by a jury, jurors are prohibited from talking with lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, or witnesses outside of the courtroom where proceedings are taking place. Why then, is it acceptable in impeachment trials? Because impeachment trials are political trials and not criminal or civil trials.[See this post for additional reading and resources] Impeachment trials include political Members, political representation, political judges, political proceedings, and practices; and as a result, impeachment trials will ultimately have a politically driven verdict, not necessarily an impartial or fair one.
Such political practices and precedents within impeachment trials further emphasize what Founding Father Alexander Hamilton foresaw when framing the U.S. Constitution itself, which is that in an inherently political impeachment trial (especially one involving the president of the United States) “there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.” [Source]
Additionally,looking back on previous impeachment trials of government officials, it is important to note that all impeachment trials ending in conviction, removal, and disqualification from holding any future public office, involved federal judges.
Only federal judges have been removed from office and disqualified from holding future public office before. Why? Likely because in most of those trials, a majority of jurors, or Members of Congress, had the same political leanings and investments. We can see this in the example of Judge West H. Humphreys, who was impeached and convicted after he joined the Confederacy (a government that was formed in direct opposition to the entire official federal government and Congress of the official Union, the United States of America).
In short, the proceedings of Trump’s second impeachment trial were legal, partisan, and ensured a partisan outcome because impeachment trials and proceedings are inherently political. And whether or not justice is reached fairly and impartially in impeachment trials is unfortunately not the point of such proceedings. Although, many would assume that it is. And ultimately, there doesn’t seem to be a reason behind holding an impeachment trial when there truly are no impartial judges, jurors, prosecutors, and defenders. Unless, the reason is a political reason.
As we all know, the realm of politics is based in the rhetorical realm, and this realm regularly insists on propagating the dangerous notion that we can only be with this party or that party to be civically engaged. And oftentimes this notion manifests itself in the real world in very real ways via voting precedents and practices, the power of political conventions and committees, political funding practices, and so on. And as we see here, in holding public officials accountable for their actions via Senate impeachment trials.
As we have seen in recent years, a political impeachment trial is not the same thing as a civil or criminal trial. It is inherently political, and if that notion is understood fully, unsurprisingly, one would then expect to have an inherently political outcome from such a trial.
In conclusion, here are some claims that can be made about Trump’s second impeachment trial, and its aftermath:
- Trump’s second impeachment trial was an inherently political trial, as all impeachment trials were and are intended to be. And it was legally conducted according to past precedents and the Constitution. All of this was outlined above. It is important to note, however, that this does not mean that such proceedings and precedents shouldn’t or couldn’t change in the future.
- If Trump is going to be convicted for any of his actions and conduct and barred from holding any elected office in the future, it will be necessary for Congress to draw up new articles of impeachment against him, to be tried in the Senate, with evidence and arguments that are politically viable for at least two-thirds of the Members in the Senate. (Notice that it does not matter whether the evidence or arguments provided during impeachment trials are themselves irrefutable or undeniable or objectively true— only that it’s necessary that they are politically viable for two-thirds of juror Members to result in a conviction.) There is also no limit to the number of times a current or former president or elected official can be impeached.
- Trump’s acquittal at the end of his second impeachment trial does not necessarily indicate that he was not guilty of treasonous offenses, or any other forms of bribery, high crimes, and or misdemeanors that were not on the docket in his second impeachment trial. It also does not conclude that he is exonerated from any of his actions and behavior, even those that were mentioned during the trial. In fact, many entities are still investigating and pursuing cases against Trump’s conduct surrounding the insurrection on January 6, 2021, and other conduct dating as far back as the mid-1990s. [Source] Such cases could offer more politically viable evidence, precedents, and proceedings for another impeachment trial to convict Trump and bar him from holding any public office in the future. However, it is important to keep in mind that even convicted felons can run for presidential office. So if Trump is convicted in a criminal or civil court, but not convicted in the Senate, he could still run for president again, as he would still be eligible to carry out one other term.
It’s uncertain whether Trump will be impeached a third time. He very well could be. Especially if anything of note transpires from investigations of his conduct or other cases and charges currently being brought against him in other courts across the United States. After being impeached twice, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched that Trump could be impeached again, especially with political power continually leaning more toward those who have been voting to convict him. To drive the point home, if a third impeachment trial were to end in a verdict convicting Trump, it’s painfully clear at this point that it would have to be politically viable for at least two-thirds of Senate Members. And as time passes and new political alliances are formed in our new 117th Congress, it could very well happen. The second impeachment trial was only ten votes shy of convicting Trump, afterall, and held more votes for convicting him than his first impeachment trial.
Notes on Writing This Draft
Completing the draft for this week’s writing prompt was challenging. It required a lot of fact-checking and required me to wade through a lot of government history, and legal documents and records. I also had to weed out the words “Democrats” and “Republicans” from its text multiple times, which was time-consuming when writing about an inherently political process that mostly fell along party lines. I am also not a legal scholar or expert, so I had to constantly verify facts relating to legal concerns and precedents.
On a personal note, I wish that there was a better way to keep party politics out of impeachment proceedings so that the proceedings could truly be impartial. Whether that would mean updating the Constitution so that is possible, I am not sure of at this point. And I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Trump was impeached for a third time. But whether a third impeachment trial would end in a “guilty” verdict would all depend on where future political alliances form and exist, as things stand right now. There have been recent and more sincere talks of a new political party forming in the wake of Trump leaving the White House [Source]… And that could make all the difference in so many things, including whether or not Trump could be tried and convicted in the Senate.
Did you complete this week’s writing prompt? Share a link to it in the comments. Or tag me @kecreighton on social: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Medium with a link or to share more about your experience completing this writing prompt.
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