The trial of the century

Selby Schnobrich, Contributing Writer

Have you ever been consciously aware that you are living in a historic moment? It can be an invigorating realization, much like what Americans felt when hearing about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969 or the Berlin Wall coming down in 1991. Most recently, political issues such as gun rights and climate change have been creating a space that prompts us to think about future generations and our generation’s legacy. The House vote to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump on Dec. 18, 2019 has prompted these same thoughts. This impeachment trial draws similarities with Watergate (although former President Richard Nixon resigned before he could be impeached) and former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment after talk of Monica Lewinsky.

Whether it is an example of partisanship at its worst or it represents the strength of our democratic checks and balances, the vote to impeach Trump is an undeniable pivotal moment in American history. Whichever way the court of public opinion comes down on the validity of the charges, the House sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Jan. 15, indicating that the trial is underway. So, now what happens? On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) released his proposed rules, which differ from the rules voted on for Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1998. The rules for each impeachment trial, this being the third in U.S. history, are tailored uniquely to fit their specific case. The Senate – made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two Independents – will vote on this resolution and the trial will proceed from there. If this trial were taking place in a standard court, it is useful to think of the Senate as the jury and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as the judge. Trump has his high-profile defense team, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) has announced seven House Democrats that make up the prosecuting case managers.

What’s at stake here? Trump could be found guilty of abuse of power and/or obstruction of Congress, which could lead to his removal from office. If removed from office, Trump would become the first president convicted in an impeachment trial, as former presidents Andrew Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted and finished their terms. The existence of the trial itself, whether it results in an acquittal or a conviction, has already dramatically spiked partisanship. Already significantly divided over political issues, Congress and the American people may continue to move further to polarized ends of the spectrum, making it nearly impossible for a functioning bipartisan nation in the near future. The House’s impeachment vote last December showed just how much party lines are affecting the trial as a whole compared to previous trials. For instance, during Clinton’s trial, 31 Democrats voted in favor of the impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile, Trump had no one from his own party vote in favor of an impeachment investigation.

This party polarization will definitely affect the upcoming presidential election in November 2020. Will Trump run? Will voter turnout reach an all-time high? And what happens if he is elected for a second term? As the history textbooks write themselves, the nation will watch with unwavering curiosity as the Constitution comes to life on the Senate floor. What would the Framers think? And more importantly, what will future generations say?

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