Just about 2 weeks ago, President Trump was formally acquitted of the two articles of impeachment against him, mostly on party lines. This, of course, came as a surprise to no one. In our divided political climate, a vote on party lines––and by extension, an acquittal––was inevitable.
But why then, did Democrats do it in the first place? Many within the Democratic party continue to ask themselves that question, even weeks after acquittal. After all, impeachment probably substantially hurts the democratic party politically. Why waste precious session time on some pipe dream that will never come to fruition? Why give right-wing media validation that there’s some deep-state conspiracy plotting overthrow the President? Why give the President validation that there’s some deep-state conspiracy plotting to overthrow the President?
Ultimately, it seemed like the Democrats were worse off by initiating a trial. No matter how legitimate their claims may be, they come off as petty and partisan, in a court of public opinion that is tired of petty and partisan politicians. Impeaching Trump would just be another unnecessary confirmation that the Democrats hate Trump; it would another unnecessary confirmation that Trump’s base has a troubling blind faith in the President.
But this is not about politics. Sure, impeachment has always been political––just look at the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998––but it is not fundamentally about politics. That’s the fundamental distinction that the Democrats made when they decided on drafting the articles of impeachment. There was strong evidence that the President of the United States broke serious laws. And while impeaching (then acquitting) seems like a Congressional slap on the wrist, it preserves the fundamental precedent of executive power––that no president is above the law. It’s a reminder that American checks and balances still exist, that some semblance of our democratic principles remains intact. The congressional Democrats (and Mitt Romney!) lose in the short term, yes. But decades from now, when future generations learn about this troubling time in American history, they will be remembered for, if not preserving checks and balances, then at least not eroding them.