Donald Trump Has Been Impeached. Now What? | Opinion

Yesterday's impeachment of the President of the United States for abuse of power (on a 230-197-1 vote) and obstruction of Congress (on a 229-198-1 vote) has put our country and the world on notice that America's head-of-state has the present intention of attempting to steal the 2020 U.S. presidential election. We know, too, the means by which the act will be committed: the illegal solicitation of foreign interference from at least one country and possibly several.

Meanwhile, the sort of trial that GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed in the U.S. Senate, in which there are no witnesses or impartial jurors and the purpose is merely for Republican senators to make official opinions they've already presented on Fox News, has no such civic utility. The historic, geopolitical, and procedural urgency that led House Democrats to push forward toward impeachment just weeks ahead of the beginning of voting in the 2020 presidential campaign—the very campaign Trump hopes foreign nationals and entities will disrupt—does not, in any way, create a similar urgency for Democrats or the country to acknowledge the value of a televised show-trial.

By comparison, ongoing Congressional attempts to access testimonial and material evidence that the House is entitled to both by law and constitution serve a civic function and are a public service whatever their outcome. For this reason, they must and will continue. Moreover, because this president's misconduct over the years has been as often compulsive as premeditated, it's a near-certainty that not only will more investigation uncover more past wrongdoing, but that a president so rakishly confident of his eventual acquittal in the Senate cannot long be deterred in his misconduct—meaning that new misconduct is likely to be generated by this president near-daily going forward. We have already seen this in Rudy Giuliani's recent and highly public trip to visit overseas with would-be election disrupters; if the conscience of the nation could any longer be shocked by the brazenness of its president, it would be. Instead, Congress will have to satisfy itself with being well on the way toward additional articles of impeachment, perhaps this time on the charges of bribery, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice that the House generously spared Trump the first time around.

As for the long-term consequences of impeachment, it's a fool's errand trying to imagine what events in December 2019 will mean to America in November 2020. These days, the country packs a month of news into every 24-hour news cycle. The volatility of the geopolitical scene in particular makes it possible that the general election campaign will not focus on what we presently expect it will; we may yet face new conflict with, or more atrocities in, any of the following: Iran; North Korea; Turkey; Syria; Ukraine; Russia; China; Lebanon; or anywhere else this president has a business interest that can effortlessly supersede his commitment to his Oath of Office and the voters who've supported him. Just so, while the national economy is presently stable enough, if decidedly unspectacular, an extended bout of anxious frenzy by the president could tank the whole thing at a moment's notice. While no one anywhere hopes for instability either at home or abroad, political prognosticators must count on it—history being a valuable guide—and therefore be modest about imagining who impeachment will or won't be helping many, many months hence.

Indeed, we don't even know what sort of president we are going to have now, post-impeachment. Just yesterday, a red-faced and incoherent head-of-state ranted obscenely to a confused crowd in Michigan, at various points literally applauding his own impeachment from the stage, musing about whether a late and much-beloved World War II veteran-cum-Congressman was burning in hell, and rambling in a sort of beatnik free-association about toilets, light bulbs, and Adam Schiff's physique. One imagines that even some of his admirers will increasingly be unamused by such hours-long solipsistic displays; certainly the fragility of this president's ego can only be further imperiled by joining the ranks of impeached presidents while being denied the exoneration the other two enjoyed (the first, Andrew Johnson, only procedurally; the second, Bill Clinton, both procedurally and, to a lesser but non-zero degree, historically.) In other words, though one hardly hopes to see this from the nominal leader of the free world, it remains possible that what we will witness in Trump in the coming months is a frightening meltdown whose ugliness and resultant public anxiety will supersede all consideration—in the short-term, at least—of what has just happened in the House. On the other side of the coin, it's a foolish politician or political party whose tactics or strategy are born in fear; the argument that impeachment will particularly energize one party's voters or the other is at this point so academic it shouldn't be guiding the actions of anyone in D.C., whatever their political stripe.

With all this in mind, it's not clear what possible benefit Democrats accrue from sending the just-passed articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate. Awaiting those articles in Congress' upper chamber is neither a well-considered nor an impartial vote—even though both are required by Senate rules and oaths—nor any meaningful testing of the evidence. All that a Senate trial would accomplish under the circumstances Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are envisioning would be a disingenuous exoneration for a profoundly disingenuous man, indeed one that would set a terrible example both for future generations and for a country whose rule of law is presently near the tipping point.

Democrats can now in good faith enter into negotiations with Mitch McConnell regarding the conduct and timing of a Senate trial, knowing full well that they earnestly desire that trial and have no fear of it. The evidence Democrats hope to eventually put to the test in the Senate is overwhelming, and only the rankest partisans believe that the Democrats don't believe that.

As the upcoming House-Senate rules negotiations unfold, and for however long they take, Democrats have an opportunity to continue their investigations and court proceedings and file any subsequent articles of impeachment that become appropriate with new revelations. Moreover, as Trump's invitation to China to interfere in our elections—which the evidence currently suggests is an invitation they accepted—attests, whether or not the president is alive to the fact that the eyes of history are upon him he will continue to commit crimes and impeachable offenses. It is far easier for the House to add new articles to an existing, untried stock than to have to restart the impeachment process from the beginning when the president inevitably continues on his present lawless course.

Two considerations that the Democrats ought not entertain, but that we can certainly acknowledge in public discourse, are (1) that the denial of a public exoneration will infuriate Trump and bring into higher relief his dangerous instability and recklessness, and (2) that as the case against the president for both abuse of power and years of obstruction in the Mueller and Ukraine investigations is airtight, there's no detriment to Democrats in pushing closer to the 2020 election a public reckoning of the president's conduct. And if Mitch McConnell's recalcitrance should happen to last through the 2020 election and we encounter therein the national tragedy of a Trump re-election, it's yet possible that a new Senate, with different leadership, would be in a position to offer America the fair trial in 2021 that it is currently demanding—on both sides of the political aisle—in 2020. As for a faux trial in 2020, most apparently agree that we've had enough lies and political theater and empty claims from this president for several lifetimes; we needn't erect a stage upon which more can accrue.

Recent Washington Post polling suggests that 71 percent of Americans, and even an astonishing 64 percent of Republicans, want a Senate trial that includes even a handful of the live witnesses the president has previously denied Congressional investigators, and whose evidence has not yet been given to the American people in any forum. The president has not only proclaimed his innocence of all charges of malfeasance, but declared his impenetrable saintliness in all matters Ukraine, so his argument that his own handpicked advisers must never speak publicly in his defense is a nonsense the American people will continue to reject. Just so, those who think Senator McConnell will have a powerful rhetorical argument to wield against the Democrats if they do not send him articles of impeachment for the purposes of a sham trial are misreading public sentiment—and willing Mitch McConnell to have a leverage in the upcoming inter-chamber negotiations that the facts on the ground suggest he does not have and likely never will.

History will record not just the fact of this impeachment, but also the severity of the allegations and the quality of the evidence against this president. It will no more forget that Donald Trump was impeached than it has the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. And if the president's recent and ongoing misconduct is monitored, recorded, and published as carefully as his past misbehavior has been, history will also not forget the president's aforementioned solicitation of illegal foreign election interference by the Chinese, or the president's knowing permission of war crimes against the Kurds in northern Syria—the latter a harrowing byproduct of his now years-long effort to appease murderous Turkish president Recep Erdogan.

As for the Ukraine scandal, it will live long in our memory as citizens and voters in large part because it led to an impeachment that, for the first time, directly implicated national security, the survival of our democracy, and the free and fair conduct of our elections. It will take a long time for America to process what has just happened, and moreover for the unabridged story of what happened in Ukraine—and is still happening—to emerge through continued investigations. So let us have good-faith negotiations between the House and the Senate on the rules of a Senate trial for as long as such negotiations must take, continued litigation and investigation in the courts and in Congress, a sense of sobriety over what has just happened in the House, and a clear-eyed apprehension of what the lawlessness of the man in the Oval Office could still cost this country and our democracy.

Seth Abramson is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at the University of New Hampshire and author of Proof Of Conspiracy (Macmillan, 2019.) On Twitter @SethAbramson​

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