‘This Acquittal Sends Three Dangerous Messages to Future Presidents’Historians in the News
tags: impeachment, Donald Trump
For the first time in American history, a U.S. president has been impeached twice.
And for the second time, Donald Trump was acquitted of high crimes and misdemeanors as Republicans rallied around him, some even ignoring the proceedings before them. So is impeachment a broken process—or did this still matter?
POLITICO Magazine asked a select group of political and legal experts what they saw over the past few weeks, and how—or whether—it will echo through American history. Many saw it as a pivotal point in the country’s political evolution, if not a gripping news event, though they read the implications very differently.
It will permanently shape Trump’s reputation, said historians—as well as the reputations of the individual senators who voted to acquit. Others warned of a backlash against Democrats, or a violent anti-government movement emboldened by Trump being let off the hook. Some were more optimistic about its importance: The historian Mary Frances Berry, for instance, said Trump’s two-time acquittal would keep impeachment “rare and principled.” And quite possibly the final outcome is entirely outside the hands of Congress, or Washington: Geoffrey Kabaservice, the historian of conservative politics, thinks the final meaning depends less on what happened this week and more on the course American voters finally choose.
‘The lack of a conviction for Trump sends a chilling message’
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, a 2020-21 Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and author of Set the World on Fire and Until I Am Free.
The failure to convict former President Donald Trump is unfortunate but not surprising. In effect, it reveals that violence and white supremacy will continue to shape American politics—as they have since the nation’s founding. The invasion of the Capitol on January 6 connects to a long history of white supremacist violence and terror. Throughout the nation’s history, white people have often used violence and intimidation to retain power—the list is long and includes white militias in the Antebellum South, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War and the Wilmington massacre of 1898. The insurrection of January 6 is only the most recent iteration of white supremacist violence cloaked under the guise of “political dissent.” The presence of racist symbols such as the Confederate flag and the noose underscore this point.
‘Trump was not exonerated’
Allan J. Lichtman is a history professor and author of The Case for Impeachment.
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump has three distinct audiences: the senators, the American people and the incoming Attorney General Merrick Garland. The first audience was never the most important. The impeachment managers realized that no matter how powerful and compelling their case, most Republican senators had closed minds and would put party and personal political advantage above loyalty to country. Nonetheless, it is notable that for the first time in history, a bipartisan majority of both parties voted to convict an American president, even if the vote fell short of the two-thirds needed for conviction. Trump was not exonerated.
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