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Trump's two impeachments hold same lesson: Republicans can't be trusted with our democracy

Jason Sattler, Opinion columnist
·6 min read
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A grand total of seven Republican senators.

That’s how many members of the so-called world's greatest deliberative body were willing to convict ex-President Donald Trump of the most documented — and possibly most heinous — crime any American president has ever committed against our constitutional order. It can't get much worse than inciting an insurrection that killed five and easily could have taken out several if not dozens more, including the same Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump.

To be fair, seven is six more Republicans than were willing to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial, which dealt with a lesser crime that also demanded removal, also related to Trump attempting to steal the 2020 election. But the lessons of both impeachments were the same: The Republican Party cannot be trusted with our democracy.

Sure, we should have known this before both trials. Yet Democrats had no choice but to document Trump’s high crimes for history, along with Republican complicity in those crimes, and hope to make them pay a political price for both. And you can argue that this strategy, though probably too limited to capture the monstrous scope of Trump’s crimes, succeeded.

America rejected the Party of Trump

Under Trump, Republicans lost the White House, the House and the Senate in one term — something that hasn’t happened since Herbert Hoover was president. But Trump also is the first modern president to leave office with fewer Americans employed than when he came in — something that also hasn’t happened since Hoover.

And there was the pandemic that left more than 400,000 Americans dead on Trump’s watch, with 40% of those deaths being avoidable, according to the recent findings of a Lancet Commission.

So it’s hard to tell exactly what made this country reject Trump’s GOP so quickly. What is clear is Democrats now have less than two years to do everything they can to make sure America never faces another president who would turn a deadly mob on his own running mate and our government.

We have now seen the limits of the Republicans who believe they have any responsibility to govern, especially when a Democrat is president: exactly seven Republicans. But to make almost anything happen in Congress, you need 10 Republican senators because of the Senate filibuster. Actually, let’s be precise. Because of Mitch’s Filibuster™.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington. D.C.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Feb. 13, 2021, in Washington. D.C.

“In the 87 years between the end of Reconstruction and 1964, the only bills that were stopped by filibusters were civil rights bills,” writes Adam Jentleson, author of "Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy."

When Kentucky's Mitch McConnell become Senate minority leader in 2007, he began using the filibuster at a rate unprecedented in American history.

This gives a minority elected by tens of millions fewer voters an effective veto on almost everything voters elected Joe Biden and Democrats to do. Some argue this duplicitous “kill switch” promotes bipartisanship. But this is a sick canard, like McConnell delaying Trump's trial for insurrection and then saying he couldn’t vote to convict because the trial was too late. What the filibuster actually does is make sure policies that are popular with average Democrats and Republicans — universal background checks for gun buyers, raising the minimum wage, citizenship for DREAMers brought to this country illegally as kids —have no chance of becoming law.

Impeachment: In Donald Trump v. democracy, acquittal shows depth and danger of Trumpism pandemic

The filibuster is even delaying essential pandemic relief that voters are demanding. Large chunks of relief will be possible through an arcane process called reconciliation that allows budget-related bills to pass with just 51 of the Senate's 100 votes, with the vice president breaking a tie. But this already drawn-out process was set back weeks even after Democrats gained control of the Senate.

Why? Mitch’s Filibuster™.

Led by McConnell, Republicans used to threat of a filibuster to make demands before relenting on the organizing resolution that let Democrats actually take control. McConnell’s demands mostly had to do with preserving his filibuster, which he already got rid of for the thing he cares about most — Supreme Court justices. If you think he wants to keep the filibuster because it helps Democrats, please do not ever operate heavy machinery again.

Don't let GOP cement its gains

Republicans are already in the process of extreme partisan gerrymandering, making it almost impossible for Democrats to win the House or most state houses. The Senate is constructed to benefit the more rural states that Republicans now dominate. And if Democrats let the filibuster become cement handcuffs, they won’t be able to fix democracy. They won't be able to pass a new voting rights act, or the For the People Act to reform elections for the 21st century, or statehood for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Mitch’s Filibuster™ prevents all that or anything that could help democracy. That’s the Mitch guarantee.

Time for hardball: Let's get real. Joe Biden, Democrats and America need results much more than unity.

Everybody knows that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have assured McConnell they’ll be the wind beneath his Filibuster™. But Sinema only has to look at her home state of Arizona, where Republican legislators have introduced 34 bills making it harder to vote because Democrats are suddenly competitive there, to know that her constituents need a new voting rights act if she wants another term. And Manchin has to decide whether he wants to go down in history as the only Democrat who can win in West Virginia, or the savior of a state that kept hemorrhaging coal jobs under the coal-suckling Trump.

These two senators must be convinced. Nothing is more important. We cannot let Republicans let Trump get away with trying to steal the last election, then go on swiping elections for the rest of this decade and beyond.

Seven Republicans are not enough. The filibuster has to go, or democracy will.

Jason Sattler, a writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and host of "The GOTMFV Show" podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @LOLGOP

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump acquittal: Democrats have 2 years to end filibuster, fix democracy