That was the second great revelation of impeachment: that the Republican Party has lost all connection to both popular will and political obligation. This is not a new observation. For the better part of a decade, the party has abandoned both the norms and rules of the political system in order to thwart Democratic objectives and secure their own hold on power. To that end, Republicans’ unwillingness to engage thoughtfully with impeachment comes as no surprise.
But at the same time that Republicans were adopting extreme tactics, Democrats were counselling patience. One day, they insisted, the fever would break. After the 2012 election, or after Trump invited Russian interference in the 2016 election, or after he attacked the parents of a slain soldier, or after two dozen women came forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault against the president.
The fever did not break, because it wasn’t a fever to begin with. A rational, principled Republican Party had not been suddenly seized by a foreign virus. The party’s turn toward Trumpism was a series of calculated choices by voters and officeholders, and they’ve shown little interest in changing.
The impeachment hearings have driven that point home: faced with credible evidence that the president was not only soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election but attempting to force a country to interfere, Republicans in Congress simply shrugged.
The most important outcome of impeachment, though, is this: it has demonstrated how uniquely unfit Donald Trump is to hold higher office. There were moments throughout the hearings in the House of Representatives that made this clear, from his attacks on diplomats as they testified to his declarations that as president he was above the law. But it took the current crisis with Iran to clarify just how dangerously unsuited Trump is.
Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have reported that the president felt under pressure from Republicans in the Senate – who will soon decide the fate of his presidency – to take a harder line with Iran. That, more than anything, explains the shocking decision to assassinate General Qassim Soleimani in Baghdad last week.
The assassination of Soleimani led to immediate retaliatory missile strikes against US bases. But the long-term consequences will be much worse. Not only is Iran likely to strike soft targets in the months and years to come, but the conflict has put Iraq in a much more tenuous position as it tries to find a path forward that does not require it to be a client state of either the US or Iran. Destabilisation in the region is a huge price to pay for the president to ensure he isn’t removed from office.
The apparent origins of the Iran crisis in the impeachment trial underscore a fundamental maxim of the Trump administration: Trump first. Safeguarding his political power has become a more important agenda item than anything else more important than international alliances, more important than democratic processes, more important than regional stability. We knew Trump was willing to risk election security to stay in office. Now we know he’s willing to risk war, too.
That is not comforting knowledge, but it is necessary knowledge. Given that impeachment will not lead to Donald Trump’s removal, it is vital that Americans have a clear-eyed assessment of the president’s fitness for office.
Clarity does not, of course, always lead to action. But thanks to the impeachment hearings, Americans will not be able to say in 10 or 20 or 30 years that they did not know exactly who Donald Trump was, and the danger he posed not only to the country, but to the world.
Nicole Hemmer is Associate Research Scholar, Obama Presidency Oral History Project, Columbia University.
Nicole is a research affiliate at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and a visiting research associate at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.