The new proceedings made Donald Trump the first president to be impeached twice in office.
Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the votes of the Electoral College, a traditional proceeding that officially declares the results of the United States presidential election. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump was delivering a speech to his supporters, in which he reasserted his claim of election fraud and declared that he had actually won.
Soon after, he proposed that his audience march to the Capitol, where the certification of votes was taking place, to prevent the alleged fraud.
Trump supporters then stormed the Capitol, climbing over barricades, breaking windows and shouting, “Stop the Steal.” The incident resulted in hundreds being injured and seven deaths, and left democracy in critical condition. The most striking aspect of the episode was the fact that the former president, whether through Twitter or video messages, supported violent action and reassured the insurgents.
Fortunately, authorities repelled the invasion. Despite the lack of police response for hours, Congress completed the vote certification the following morning. The House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump a second time week after the attack and a week before the end of his term.
How Trump’s Impeachment Affects Democracy
No American president has ever been impeached twice during his presidency, let alone in only one term. Before the 2020 election, the United States was already divided between Democrats and Republicans, and the presidential race was viewed as a chance to “save the soul of America.”
On the Democrats’ side, Joe Biden advocated that the U.S. should return to the ways things were before Trump, taking a more humane stance toward issues such as immigration, improvement of the economy and commitment to science. On the Republican side, Trump promised to save America from the Democrats and restore order, claiming that the only way his opponent would win would be through electoral fraud.
Trump’s fiery rhetoric about the unfairness of his defeat and the claims that Biden won by cheating caused unrest among Americans, with half the population unwilling to accept the election results. During his last months in office, Trump never acknowledged his defeat and repeatedly and ineffectually tried to change the outcome of the election. His last attempt was on Jan. 6.
Trump’s second impeachment was criticized several times by members of the Republican Party, who deemed the process against someone who is no longer president unconstitutional. They believed that his presidential defeat was in itself a consequence and that impeachment would divide the country even further.
Although many constitutional experts will debate over the constitutionality of the process, failing to impeach Trump for inciting violence sets a scary precedent: A president is free to commit any crime in the last days of his term. No matter how terrible the crime would be, he would be free to commit the act if he were only a few weeks away from leaving office.
To be clear, Trump has divided the country over the past four years as president, and by not holding him accountable for the events on Jan. 6, Congress gives politicians more room to act with impunity and increases the odds that these episodes will happen again. It is impossible to deny the former president’s role in this terrorist attack, as many of the crowd were wearing red “MAGA” hats, carrying pro-Trump flags and shouting, “Fight for Trump.”
Even out of office, Trump still has power over Republican voters and, consequently, the Republican Party. The outcome of the Senate trial revealed the Republican Party’s automatic support for the former president, with the exception of seven senators, who found Trump guilty. Senators like Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio acquitted Trump for their political survival and to ensure the chance to become leading candidates in the 2024 presidential election.
Trump can still run for reelection, of course, and will have his most loyal supporters on his side. However, if he is barred from running because of criminal investigations he is facing, or because of his health, these senators want to be the Republicans’ second choice.
It was naive to think that Trump’s departure would heal American democracy overnight. It was also naive to think that the Republican Party would convict Trump. However, it is important to remember that he is out of office, and that his image will always marked by the fact he is the first president to lose the popular vote twice and the first president to be impeached twice. And what he dislikes hearing the most is that he lost and that democracy won.