This trial is not about Donald Trump
Starting this week, an endless number of commentators, including yours truly, will descend on the cable news networks to breathlessly analyze the Senate trial of President Trump. We will talk about the law and strategy as we eagerly consume every hour of what will be a clownish but captivating spectacle. We will watch senators from both parties pretend their minds are not made up, when we know exactly how they will each vote. We will pontificate about the sanctity of impeachment, about the Constitution, and how this entire ordeal will eventually be judged in the history books.
But let me clue you in on something. None of this really matters, and not just because we all know how it ends. It does not matter because this trial simply has nothing to do with the law or the Constitution or dealings with Ukraine. This is not oversight by Congress or some principled exercise by serious leaders to protect the system from a corrupt president. It is and has always been about rejecting a president who not only refuses to play by the rules but to acknowledge they even exist. It is and has always been a desperate attempt to stop him from winning reelection this November.
Anyone paying attention in 2016 knew exactly what we were getting with Trump, and nothing he has done as president is a surprise. He is impolite and petulant. He will throw anyone under the bus. He is not judicious in his choice of friends, his actions, or his speech, and he regularly toes the line of legality. He has no use for Washington power structures or respect for freedom of the press. In a town that rewards conformity, Trump is the complete opposite, and his election threw the entire system out of whack.
But you know what? That is all just fine. Ultimately, the system within our democracy was not meant to limit presidential candidates to the vetted members of an aristocratic class. The beauty of our nation is that anyone can be elected to office, whether they are cut out for the job or not, and Americans are entitled to the president of their choice every four years.
For the past few decades most of our presidential candidates fit into one of two molds. One was the career politician who went to an Ivy League, groomed for politics with no experience in the private sector. The other was the product of a dynasty, someone whose success was largely owed to the power and wealth that came from existing bases. When you look at 2016, Trump was an outlier on both sides of the aisle. His election was the resounding rejection of a system that millions of Americans decided was not working for them. They chose to give Trump a chance to do better.
When the Ukraine story broke, despite the efforts by Democrats to sell it as the worst offense, the public did not buy it because this is exactly the kind of behavior they expect from Trump. They were unimpressed with an impeachment case with no real crime and no actual harm to Ukraine, with many convinced this was no worse than how other presidents behave. It revealed the Hunter Biden arrangement with Burisma, exactly the type of deal that Americans so detest yet have come to expect from Washington insiders and their families shamelessly cashing in on all their influence.
Perhaps if Democrats had not spent the last three years calling Trump a Russian stooge and traitor then they would have some credibility today. However, the special counsel investigation and the unceasing march to impeach Trump for whatever they find now makes them impossible to take seriously. Despite their best efforts there was no public outcry for impeachment and no break in the ranks by Republicans. Yet Democrats marched on to hand us a partisan impeachment simply doomed to fail.
The true threat to our democracy is not Trump. It is leaders who are using the system to accomplish what they cannot at the ballot box. For better or worse, Trump is our president. We had the right to elect him the first time, and we have the right to decide if he keeps his job for another term. This impeachment is about taking away that right. Let us have the trial, ensure it is fair, hear from witnesses, and allow the chips to fall where they may. But let us not pretend it is principled. It is a divisive and harmful scorched earth campaign designed to prevent Americans from repeating what the ruling class believes never should have been allowed in the first place.
Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor at the Justice Department and a United States Army combat veteran. He currently practices law in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno. The views expressed in this column are his own and are not those of his employer.