Bill Press: The day democracy died

Standing in front of the House that impeached him on Dec. 18 and the Senate that will acquit him Wednesday, there’s nothing new President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE can tell us about the state of the union tonight. We already know that our union is badly broken, perhaps beyond repair.

We learned that last Friday, when 51 Republicans voted to end the Senate trial of Trump without hearing all the evidence. In our lifetime, that day, Friday, Jan. 31, is the “day that will live in infamy.”

This was the day founder Benjamin Franklin warned us about at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. You remember the story. As he walked out of Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation, a female bystander asked him: “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or Monarchy?” And Franklin famously replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

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Franklin would be proud. We kept it for 232 years. But Franklin would weep. Sadly, we lost it on Jan. 31 — when 51 senators said “To hell with the Constitution. To hell with checks and balances. To hell with representative democracy. And to hell with a republic. We’d rather have a monarchy, instead.” History will remember Jan. 31, 2020, as the day democracy died.

Am I exaggerating just to make a point? Hell, no. Consider what those whom columnist E.J. Dionne dubbed the “Trump 51” threw out the window when they slammed the doors to any additional documents or important testimony from top White House officials, including the former national security adviser appointed by the president himself.

First, they destroyed the reputation the United States Senate once enjoyed as “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” Members of no organization worthy of the name would stoop to exercising the greatest responsibility given them in the Constitution without having all the facts in front of them. Republican senators closed their eyes and ears to the truth. They didn’t want to see or hear it.

Second, they abdicated any independent power the Senate once enjoyed. In effect, they have redefined the role of Congress: no longer as a co-equal branch of government, but as an arm of the executive. Congress long ago surrendered to the president its sole authority to declare war. Now they’ve also allowed the president to veto military aid to allies approved by Congress (unless those allies do him personal, political favors). Ironically, even Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators will have access to intelligence on Russian bounties on US troops Overnight Defense: Lawmakers demand answers on reported Russian bounties for US troops deaths in Afghanistan | Defense bill amendments target Germany withdrawal, Pentagon program giving weapons to police Senators push to limit transfer of military-grade equipment to police MORE (R-Alaska), one of the Trump 51, recognizes that: “It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.” Yes, and she helped cause it.

Third, the Senate totally repudiated the rule of law and any constitutionally mandated limits on the presidency. Shamelessly, they have endorsed Trump’s mind-boggling reading of the Constitution: “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.” From now on, it’s whatever King Donald wants. The Trump 51 agree: The president is above the law.

Now, here’s the worst part: Who did Republican senators deem worthy enough to destroy our democracy for? We know the answer: a pathological liar who paid porn stars not to talk about his extramarital affairs, bragged about grabbing women by their genitals, called America’s top generals a bunch of “losers, dopes and babies,” insisted there were some “very fine people” among the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville — and who, by the way, tried to bribe the president of Ukraine. The Trump 51 junked 232 years of democracy for Donald Trump. Consider the state of the union — and weep.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”