Students should ensure their elected officials hold Trump accountable in impeachment trial

There is no denying that a successful U.S. Senate conviction of former President Donald Trump in the looming impeachment trial is a long shot. Senate Democrats need 17 Republicans to vote in favor of impeachment to reach the required two-thirds majority.

But if enough Republicans flip, the conviction would set an important precedent for holding even our most powerful representatives accountable, even after they leave office, and exemplify the willingness of the Republican Party to move beyond the dogma of Trump. While we, as students, may see ourselves as onlookers of the impeachment trial, we have the ability to sway our local leaders to convict Trump.

The most powerful tool students and other constituents can use to hold their representatives accountable are their voices. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have websites with contact information available for every congressperson. Contacting officials ensures the will of the people is foremost in the congressional decision-making process. The New York Times published a list of each senator’s statements regarding the approaching Senate trial. While it is likely futile to contact Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., or Ted Cruz, R-Tx., undecided Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins, R-Me., Mitt Romney, R-Ut., and Ben Sasse, R-Ne., have a higher propensity to cross party lines.

After reaching out to senators, we should encourage friends and family members to also do so. If senators believe their constituents want to see justice served, and if they believe that a “nay” vote may cost them their reelection, they are much more likely to vote to convict. The more these senators are pressed to hold Trump accountable, the greater likelihood that they do.

Some Senate Republicans have opposed the trial on the grounds that, since Trump is no longer in office, it is supposedly unconstitutional. But the Constitution does not prohibit the impeachment of a federal official after they have left office. In fact, one official, the 30th Secretary of War William Belknap, succumbed to this exact fate. In 1876, Belknap submitted his resignation to then-President Ulysses Grant just minutes before the House was set to vote on five articles of impeachment. Despite his resignation, the House unanimously voted to impeach Belknap, and the articles were sent over to the Senate. While Belknap was no longer in office, representatives maintained that they were obligated to hold him accountable, as future officials could resign to escape prosecution.

A similar concern took place in the 1974 impeachment process of then-President Richard Nixon. As the House prepared to vote to impeach Nixon for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, he promptly resigned and was subsequently pardoned by his vice president, Gerald Ford. Because of his plummeting level of political support during Watergate and in the wake of the Saturday Night Massacre, it is highly likely that Nixon would have been impeached and convicted by the Senate had he not resigned.

If the U.S. Capitol riot had not occurred with only two weeks left in Trump’s term, his trial surely would have taken place while he was still in office. That makes it even more imperative for leaders to hold him accountable for inciting the insurrection and establish a concrete precedent that no one – even those who left office – is above the law. The examples of Belknap and Nixon highlight the ramifications for allowing baseless claims of unconstitutionality to derail the legitimate and necessary Senate impeachment trial. Reaching out to senators with these examples in mind may help to dispel the unfounded notions of unconstitutionality and encourage an open-minded perception of the trial.

Convicting Trump would not exonerate the Republicans who continued to support his harmful rhetoric, blatantly discriminatory policies and overt attempts to overturn the election. The damage Trump has done to our sacred institutions and the security of our nation and population may take decades to repair. If our elected officials cannot even come together and collectively condemn the infractions he has committed against our country, such repair may be impossible.

It’s vital that students take action and push their leaders to make the right decision to impeach Trump, regardless of their political affiliation. All students, especially those who live in states that have elected Republican senators, should contact their representatives and demand that they forgo the post-truth etiquette of the Trump presidency and see that justice is rightly served. We must put the people and our country over politics in order to lead the United States on the right path.

Michael DiFabrizio, a sophomore majoring in political science, is an opinions writer

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