The End of the Trump Era—At Least for Now | Opinion

The acquittal of Donald Trump on charges of inciting an insurrection marks the end of the Trump era. Beginning in the run up to the 2016 election, Trump exacerbated already palpable divisions within our nation. His first campaign for president was marked by name calling, personal attacks and exaggerated claims. He won that election fair and square, as I predicted he would in August 2016. I did not support his candidacy, having campaigned for, donated to and voted for Hillary Clinton. But I accepted the outcome of the election.

The Trump presidency was filled with controversies, from his ban on immigration from designated Muslim countries, to his policies on the Mexican border, to his inconsistencies with regard to COVID-19 and finally to his unwillingness to accept the outcome of the 2020 election.

The Trump era ends with even more division than existed when it began. Trump contributed to that, but so did his enemies. Trump haters demanded that everyone choose sides and pass purity tests. I failed both, refusing to give up my right to assess the president in a nuanced fashion. I opposed many of his policies, but strongly supported his approach to the Middle East peace process. I actively helped his administration in its efforts to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and normalcy between Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors. Having opposed President Barack Obama's ill-advised Iran nuclear deal, I supported Trump's tougher approach to Tehran's nuclear ambitions, as well as the movement of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; I had unsuccessfully urged several previous presidents to make that move. I also supported the Trump administration's decision to recognize Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, subject to negotiation with Syria in any future peace deal.

Among the most serious and potentially enduring casualties of the Trump/anti-Trump era was freedom of speech, the press and assembly. The First Amendment is weaker today than it was when Trump took office. This is largely the fault of anti-Trump zealots, though Trump himself provoked their overreaction by the manner in which he exercised his own freedom of expression. His tweets and other social media statements caused several platforms to ban him and others with whose speech they disagreed. Trump's excesses even provoked traditionally liberal organizations and writers to call for private censorship, emulating tactics they had long condemned as McCarthyite. Trump's second impeachment—based on a speech that most civil libertarians would have found to be protected by the First Amendment had it been delivered by anyone else—damaged the freedom of speech, despite the former president's ultimate acquittal.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One at the White House in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2021. - President Trump travels his Mar-a-Lago golf club residence in Palm Beach, Florida, and will not attend the inauguration for President-elect Joe Biden. MANDEL NGAN / AFP/Getty

Another casualty of the Trump era was the judicial selection process, especially with regard to the Supreme Court. Trump's first two nominations to the High Court were reasonable, though they would not have been my choices. Senator Chuck Schumer's angry threats against the nominations, on the other hand, were unreasonable. The manner in which Democrats and liberals treated Justice Brett Kavanaugh was nothing short of disgraceful, but he was eventually confirmed, if largely along party lines.

Trump's final nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, however, exposed the hypocrisy of Republican Senate leaders who had opposed President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland eight months before the 2016 election, on the grounds that the next president should make that appointment. When President Trump nominated Barrett less than two months before the 2020 election, the same Republican senators rushed her through to confirmation, coming up with phony distinctions. Now there are calls to pack the Court with Democratic appointees, and President Biden has appointed a commission to look into the entire process of judicial appointments.

From a civil liberties perspective, we are worse off today than we were four years ago. The blame for this decline is shared. Trump provoked his enemies into overreacting against our civil liberties. Those who supported his impeachment tried to create a "Trump exception" to the First Amendment, in response to the "January exception" they feared would be created by failure to impeach him for his incendiary January 6 speech.

The time has come not only to reunite Americans, but to rebuild shattered friendships and to move forward with malice toward none and charity for all. The time has also come to re-strengthen our civil liberties, most especially our First Amendment rights. Now that Trump is no longer president, I hope fair-weather civil libertarians who were willing to compromise our rights in the interests of "getting Trump" will come to their senses and understand that those constitutional rights are more important than any president and must endure beyond any presidency.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter @AlanDersh and on Facebook @AlanMDershowitz. His new podcast, The Dershow, can be found on Spotify, YouTube and iTunes.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.