Trump’s Senate Acquittal Had To Happen
because redemption wasn’t going to occur, and neither was justice for America.
Justice works two ways. It changes the guilty or it satisfies the victims.
The convicted man can emerge from his punishment, be it prison or fine or impeachment, changed. Whether genuinely contrite or simply afraid of further punishment, he no longer commits the crime. He behaves differently. We might hope that the guilty man comes to understand the pain of his assault on others, but the justice system is mostly clustered around making horrible people so afraid of acting on their horrible impulses that they don’t do it again (or at all).
Law seeks to prevent crime. Justice seeks to make the guilty hurt enough to feel remorse or fear.
But the Senate impeaching Trump post-Presidency wasn’t going to change anyone. The only thing that might possibly change is that Trump wouldn’t be allowed to run again. It certainly wouldn’t have changed Trump, much less his behavior. He is incapable of feeling remorse. Moreover, the Senate makes laws but it doesn’t enforce Justice. It has little power to make Trump suffer in any way at all. It cannot imprison him, or fine him, or beat him. A post-Presidency impeachment is a largely symbolic act, and we know Trump is incapable of understanding symbolism.
Laws are created to prevent crime, but a post-Presidency impeachment would not have prevented some future Trumpian character from repeating his actions. A post-Presidency impeachment isn’t about the Law, it’s about Justice.
When the guilty party is incapable of change, whether because he is so devoid of moral character or lacks the ability to sympathize with another human being or simply enjoys the results of his crime too much (and the law seems incapable of stopping him), then justice must act to satisfy the victims.
In this case, Justice has little to do with the guilty party, except to make him experience what he has done to the innocent. But this is a kind of peripheral effect, since we know the guilty will not be changed at all by their misery. They won’t feel guilty, and upon release nothing will really hold them back from doing it again. We know they will sin again; and we live with the understanding that when caught their past will remind us to make the chains tighter, or our attention upon them greater, and hope to heaven the crime they go on to inevitably commit is small enough that the suffering they inflict is light. Jail is supposed to be a miserable experience because the true purpose of making the guilty suffer, when the guilty are are irredeemable, is to quench the suffering’s desire for satisfaction.
Those who hurt us seem incapable of understanding our suffering. And even though we know they might never actually be capable of understanding what they’ve done or who they are, by God we want them to at least FEEL what they’ve made us feel.
The vote to impeach Trump was just such an act. It was, fundamentally, for the majority of Americans, a desire to satisfy our desire for Justice over what Trump has done to the sacred Constitutional foundation of our nation. Nobody ever understood that impeachment would change Trump. much less convince him that the charges against him were true. Impeachment was, is, simply a way of satisfying our need to hurt the sonofabitch back for what he’s done and for the criminal that he is.
But it was also more. It was an impossible more.
Justice for the victims is not confined to the guilty being made to suffer. Justice for the victims also concerns the systems that failed to prevent the crime in the first place. We make the guilty suffer in order to assure ourselves that we care, that we were not willing participants in the crime or that we turned a deliberately blind eye. Trump is a liar, an extortionist, a thug, a con man. He cheats, on his wives, on his children, on his taxes, and on his duty. It happened under our watch, and we allowed it to happen.
The Justice we need is one that says we ourselves feel remorse for the crime, and that we’re willing to do something about it.
Our political system allowed Trump to happen. In particular, the Senate.
We were hoping that those who abetted Trump through the last four years, and especially the last four months, and for God’s sake the last four weeks, understood, felt, the injustice of his actions, understood the dangers, recognized the need to accept some responsibility. We hoped, somehow, that the gravity of his actions, the seriousness of his crimes, the tragedy of his office, might somehow CHANGE those Senators who had accompanied him all along.
What the hell were we thinking?
These men weren’t going to change. And honestly, had they voted to convict Trump, they would not have done so because they felt remorse or guilt or culpability. They most certainly would not have done so because they had some sudden epiphany about the true nature of their support for the bastard.
House and Senate Republicans would have voted to post-Presidency impeach Trump only if the risks were greater not to do so. The fact that they voted to acquit was the necessary proof America needed to see.
It might be nice and naive to assume that the Republicans watching the case laid out against Trump the last few days in the impeachment hearings might have had some sudden awakening. But it wouldn’t be true at all. They knew weeks ago, months ago, years ago, who and what they stood behind.
Justice to change the guilty would not have occurred, because the guilty have not changed. They may be incapable of it. Had they voted to impeach, many Republican Senators would likely have lost their Senate seats in the near future, but their complicity in the last four years is ample evidence that few of them feel guilty at all.
What we needed was a Justice that proved the guilty felt enough remorse to accept their punishment. Since they do not, it was necessary for them to prove it.
And Justice to soothe the victims would not have been legitimate either, because a post-Presidency impeachment would have done nothing at all to change the system that allowed Trump to get away with it in the first place.
A post-Presidency impeachment would have been nearly as bad a lie as any Trump has told the last four years.
Whatever satisfaction the victims — in this case, America — might have felt by impeachment would have been not only short-lived, but ultimately false.
It’s frustrating, but it was necessary.
Let’s hope we learned the lesson.