The Senate voted to acquit President Trump on the two articles of impeachment he was being accused of. USA TODAY

Next Democratic president will look at the lawlessness of this Republican one and the cowardice of the Senate and conclude that anything goes: Our view


Senate Republicans are no doubt congratulating themselves for staging the first impeachment trial in history with no witnesses and nothing approaching full consideration of the issues at stake. By bringing the proceedings to their predictable, preordained and premature conclusion on Wednesday, they chose the path of least resistance.

As President Donald Trump and his enablers run their victory laps, however, the sound you hear is that of the Constitution being trampled. To say the very least, and the painfully obvious, the acquittals (52-48 on abuse of power and 53-47 on obstruction of Congress) leave a damaging legacy.

The failure to sanction Trump's misconduct — using your tax dollars to shake down a foreign government and smear a political rival — means that future presidents will have little to fear from the impeachment process. The failure to stand up to Trump's stonewalling of congressional investigators grievously wounds the legislature's oversight authority.

All Republicans are accessories to Trump's assaults, except Romney

Over the past few years, Republicans who once warned that Trump posed grave dangers to both party and country have, one by one, cravenly buckled. Now, with a truncated trial that they conceived, executed and brought to an early end, they have completed their acts of submission. All but Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former GOP presidential nominee who courageously voted to convict on abuse of power, are accessories to Trump’s assaults on the rule of law.

By voting to exclude witnesses, the Senate Republicans created a "trial" that went from opening arguments to closing statements with no testimony in between. In all likelihood, the evidence they did not want to hear, from former national security adviser John Bolton and others, will drip out in the coming months, prompting people to wonder why the Senate refused to consider it.

SEN. CASSIDY: House impeachment managers failed to prove case

Now that the Senate has rendered its verdict, in nine months the voters will have the opportunity to render theirs.

Beyond the next election, the Senate’s decision to let Trump off without even requiring him to acknowledge his transgressions, or censuring them, sets a troubling precedent. As Patrick Philbin, one of Trump’s attorneys, acknowledged in a different context: “Whatever is accepted in this case becomes the new normal.”

What might that new normal look like?

Some day, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, a Democrat will be elected president. He or she will look at the lawlessness of Trump and the cowardice of the Senate and conclude that anything goes.


Presidents have been impeached, but none have been removed from office due to impeachment. Confusing? Here's how. USA TODAY

What the great-grandchildren of Republican senators will face

What’s more, it might be more than a routine Democratic administration that Republicans are confronted with. To look at the rapidly diversifying electorate and the starkly liberal views of young voters, it's not impossible to envision an activist, progressive administration that seeks to rule by executive fiat.

If that's the case, the Senate’s actions now will look less like political calculation than self-destruction. The majority will have handed their opponents the weapons to use against them.

And some day, in the more distant future, the great-grandchildren of today's Senate Republicans will be in history class. With a single exception, they will have one overriding fear: that their classmates will find out it was their ancestor who, when asked to do impartial justice and stand up for American democracy, said ... I can’t do that.

The impact of Wednesday's votes is likely to reverberate for generations to come. 

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

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