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Donald Trump is the first president in US history to face impeachment – and be acquitted – twice. This time, he faced impeachment for inciting the riots at the Capitol last month. This incident resulted in the deaths of five people and the injury of countless others. Despite this, he was acquitted, as many Senate Republicans claimed that the trial should not even be held. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell went as far as to say that the former president “is practically morally responsible for provoking the events of the day” but refused to vote to convict him. Letting Trump escape consequences for the role he played in the riots is an injustice to those affected. Perhaps even more importantly, an acquittal sends the message that it is okay to disrupt the peace and democracy of this country over unproven claims of election fraud. This is a very dangerous message.
It is important to establish what impeachment means. Impeachment is when a legislative body decides to bring charges against a civil officer for alleged crimes. Trump’s first impeachment was for allegedly soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election. On Feb. 5, 2020 he was acquitted of these charges.
Trump was impeached again by the House of Representatives on Jan. 13, 2021 for allegedly inciting insurrection at the Capitol. He was tried once again, but there were not enough votes to reach the two-thirds majority needed for conviction.
The rioting at the Capitol should be seen for exactly what it was: an attempt to undermine American democracy. Trump had made it clear for some time that he would not accept the results of the election, continuously making claims of voter fraud that were repeatedly denied by various experts.
Before the rioting began, Trump had held a rally outside the White House. House impeachment managers claimed that at this rally, Trump made statements calling for the march on the Capitol and the subsequent riot.
Trump and his legal team have repeatedly denied that he holds any responsibility for starting the riot, but it seems that his own supporters disagree.
“Trump wants all able-bodied patriots to come,” Jessica Watkins wrote to fellow members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist group, prior to the attack.
Watkins is not alone. Multiple Trump supporters who are confirmed to have been rioters at the Capitol have claimed that they were following the former president’s orders. This absolutely does not absolve their own actions, and they should be held individually accountable. However, it does make one thing abundantly clear: the violent acts they performed were inspired by the words of the former president.
Based on the severity of his actions, it becomes clear that the acquittal of Trump is an injustice to the nation. If additional proof is required, the word of his own supporters can be used against him. Beyond that, Trump’s unwillingness to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election set a dangerous example for other leaders. While he may no longer be president of the United States, his attempts to undermine democracy reveal that he is still very much a threat to the peace of this nation. Trump’s deeds going unpunished sets a dangerous precedent: the idea that a former leader who has lost their legal right to rule may try to reestablish it by force.