Former U.S. President Donald Trump has not been cleared of his responsibility for an incident that has left a blemish on U.S. democracy. It must not be forgotten that the root of this problem was his behavior, which prevented a peaceful transfer of power.
The U.S. Senate has acquitted Trump in an impeachment trial over the occupation of the Capitol by his supporters and others.
Of the 100 senators serving as jurors, a total of 57 — 50 from the ruling Democratic Party and seven from the opposition Republican Party — voted to convict Trump. Although exceeding half the number of votes, it fell short of the two-thirds majority, or 67, needed for a conviction.
The trial questioned whether Trump’s call for a march to Congress had constituted “incitement of insurrection” at a supporters’ rally on Jan. 6 when Congress was in the proceedings to formally confirm the election of Democratic candidate Joe Biden as the next president.
A Democratic lawmaker at the House of Representatives, who served as a prosecutor, released footage from the day of the incident and said Trump’s guilt was clear. In response, the defense team argued that a trial after a president has left office would be unconstitutional as the target of an impeachment trial is an incumbent, an argument that many Republicans supported.
The trial lasted only five days. Considering the gravity of the incident, discussions should have been made thoroughly by repeatedly questioning witnesses, including security officials.
The early conclusion of the impeachment trial was the result of political considerations of the ruling and opposition parties.
The Democrats were concerned that a lengthy hearing would delay Senate deliberations on economic stimulus measures and the approval of high-level appointments. Republicans may have also decided that it would be unwise to continue defending Trump for a long time.
The Senate Republican leader voted not guilty, but said that “there is no question that Trump was practically responsible” for the riot. This can be said to be a widely shared view in Congress.
It is hard to understand why Trump criticized the trial as the “greatest witch hunt in the history of our country” in his statement after the verdict. Overturning the defeat was the point of the siege, based on Trump’s groundless claim of “fraud” in the presidential election.
Amid a backdrop of strong popularity, Trump seems eager to resume his political activities with an eye on the next presidential election. How will the Republican Party deal with this issue?
If Republicans continue to support Trump, the party will be swayed by his self-righteous behavior. If they break from him, they may lose many seats due to the defection of Trump supporters. The state of the party is being severely questioned.
U.S. President Biden stressed that the incident demonstrated the vulnerability of democracy. It is hoped that all Americans will keep in mind the danger that conspiracy theories can lead to extreme violence.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 16, 2021.