Viewpoint: Trump acquittal underscores need to end filibuster

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Karen Rubin, Columnist

After the biggest, most bipartisan vote ever to convict a president, 57-43, the Senate tally failed to reach the two-thirds majority threshold of 67 to hold Trump accountable for inciting a deadly insurrection to overturn the election.

“This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile. That it must always be defended. That we must be ever vigilant. That violence and extremism has no place in America,” President Biden said. “And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”

And in a stunning statement following the Senate vote, Mitch McConnell, who as majority leader prevented the House from bringing the Article of Impeachment Jan. 15 while Trump was still in office and forced the delay until after he was out of office, actually gave a more damning indictment of Trump’s criminality. He cited his betrayal of his oath of office and his culpability in the deadly insurrection but said – get this – he couldn’t vote to impeach because Trump was out of office, a private citizen. He suggested – as did Trump’s own defense attorney by the way – that accountability be found in the court system.

But then you know what will happen. It already has. Trump, who has escaped accountability his whole life, becoming more and more emboldened, a sociopath who gets orgasmic pleasure out of others’ suffering and pain and delighted in using the awesome power of the presidency to exert that much higher level of cruelty, will decry as he has so often that any attempt to hold him accountable is a witch hunt, hoax, political prosecution, political retribution. And why not? The techniques he has used – witness intimidation, politicizing criminal justice, threatening prosecutors and investigators, extortion, bribery, destroying careers and livelihoods and lives – has worked so well not only to shield him from accountability forever but to advance this bankrupt reality TV conman to the most powerful office in the world.

But what if Trump uses the same tactics against the prosecutors and jurors in criminal court? He has already proved that he can incite people to commit murder for him. The Fulton County, Georgia prosecutor has already gotten the death threats the secretary of state and election workers received. What if jurors in a Trump trial – whether for money- laundering for Putin or subverting the election – are subjected to threats or fear they will be hounded, like the Michigan secretary of state or Georgia election workers?

Trump’s control of the Republican Party now is such that the only ones who will run – and get his blessing – are people like QAnon nut Marjorie Taylor Greene, who claimed California wildfires were caused by Jewish lasers from space).

Indeed, just about every Republican – Senator Cassidy of Louisiana, Senator Burr of North Carolina, Congresswoman Cheney of Wyoming, who voted their conscience to impeach Trump have been censured by their state’s Republican party.

“We did not send him there to vote his conscience,” the chairman of the Washington County GOP said of Senator Pat Toomey, “We did not send him there to do the right thing.”

Trump has no limit to the supply of armed White Supremacist insurrectionists he can call upon, propagated and validated by Trump’s constant campaign ginning up division, hate and violence. They are emboldened by the same sense of impunity, doing their best to intimidate any judge, prosecutor, juror or Congress member who stands in his way. As Trump said literal minutes after the Senate failed to convict, in a clear, unchastened call to arms, “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun.”

Will the new attorney general seek justice or will he be constrained by Biden’s (fruitless) call for “unity” and to “just move on” and inhibited by the inevitable charges of political retribution and politicized Justice Department.

But here are the lessons of the Trump Impeachment: Republicans have no interest in unity, in bipartisanship or in governing on behalf of the people. If they couldn’t even get 10 senators, let alone the 17 needed to convict Trump, after this clear, deadly insurrection to overturn a democratic election, they will never get 10 votes to pass the American Rescue Plan so desperately needed nor any of the other critical elements of Biden’s agenda (voting rights, immigration, climate change, infrastructure, gun reform, criminal justice, health care).

Notably, the number of Americans represented by the guilty votes was nearly 75 million MORE than the number represented by votes against conviction (just as strong majorities support the elements of Biden’s agenda). But Republicans haven’t cared about the majority for decades, realizing how they could use voter suppression, gerrymandering, the Electoral College, Citizens United and the filibuster to maintain power.

And just as Trump’s takeaway from the verdict was “we have only begun,” Republicans are digging in more, reveling in their obstruction as a badge of loyalty to their Dear Leader.

There has to be accountability for Trump and for Republicans, which has become the White Nationalist Party, content to using violence and intimidation – a return to Jim Crow, the KKK and Al Capone style of politicking – solely to hold power. Their agenda isn’t COVID relief, vaccinations or criminal justice. It’s overturning civil rights and restricting voting rights (already some 100 bills presented by Republicans to roll back access to vote since the 2020 election). McConnell is reverting back to his Obama obstructionism because he believes it is the path back to regaining control in 2022.

So here’s what has to happen: end gerrymandering, expand the Supreme Court, overturn Citizens United, end the Electoral College and establish a presidency by popular vote, but the first step has to be to end the filibuster. It’s the only way to end this tyranny and this march to autocracy and preserve our democratic republic.

“And if all this takes eliminating the filibuster – another Jim Crow relic – in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that’s what we should do,” President Obama said.

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