It’s been clear since the moment Trump announced his campaign that political norms would be thrown out the window. From his brash and brazen tweets, to his refusal to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate, to his war with the “fake news” of the mainstream media, Trump has proven his disregard for American political norms at every turn. These norms, while not formally stated rules and procedures, serve an important purpose in safeguarding our democracy from rabid partisanship and authoritarianism . Trump’s Impeachment trial in the Senate is a prime example of his disregard for political norms, and shows the way his divisive rhetoric has shaped Congress. By analyzing Trump’s acquittal, we can see how a partisan divide can pave the way for democratic erosion in the US.
Trump went into the Impeachment trial facing two charges, Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress, and was found not guilty on both counts by Congress. The votes, as expected, fell almost exactly on party lines, with Democrats voting guilty on both charges, and Republicans voting not guilty. While Trump and his brigade took this win in stride, boasting about their victory over the “Impeachment Hoax” . Democrats on the other hand, viewed the entire Impeachment trial in the Senate as a partisan sham. Republicans in the Senate sought to block new witnesses and evidence from being presented at the trial, and refused to let key witnesses testify. CNN analyst Stephen Collinson points out how Trump has been able to maintain a strong control over various democratic institutions, stating, “One of the most remarkable features of the Impeachment saga is how even congressional institutionalists like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been willing to cede control of their party to Trump,” . By abandoning democratic norms and promoting extreme partisanship, Trump has been able to increase his control over institutional features of American Democracy far beyond just the presidency.
In the aftermath of Trump’s acquittal, he has been even more bold in his disregard for political norms. He has shown that he will seek revenge against those who speak against him, as seen in the firing of American ambassador Gordon Sondland who gave information to Congress during the Impeachment trials. He has also taken action to show that he will protect people who break the law on his behalf, such as his advisor Roger Stone, who had been convicted of seven felonies by Mueller. The Department of Justice pushed for a lighter sentence for Stone, resulting in four federal prosecutors withdrawing their cases against him. The more control Trump is able to exert over the different branches of American democratic institutions, the more bold he will be in his attempts to maintain and increase that power .
Trump’s attack on democratic institutions and norms poses a worrying threat to the state of American democracy. Trump’s disdain for political norms has allowed him to foster polarization and erode key democratic institutions. Trump has successfully weaponized these institutions, such as the Senate and the courts, to act in his favor and subvert democracy to defeat his political opponents . This weaponization can be seen in his acquittal, as he maintained a firm grasp over the Republican Senators that needed his approval due to the rabid partisanship Trump has created. As these norms continue to crumble and Trump continues to successfully weaponize democratic institutions, the US teeters dangerously close to the edge of democracy as we know it. Lieberman, Robert C., Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts, & Richard Valelly. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Working paper.  Staff, FOX61. “President Trump Tweets in Response to His Impeachment Acquittal.” fox61.Com, WTIC, 5 Feb. 2020, www.fox61.com/article/news/president-trump-tweets-in-response-to-his-impeachment-acquittal/520-9801c5e7-d1ef-4cab-b094-f561c1b1e1c9.  Collinson, Stephen. “Impeachment Drama Reveals Erosion of Value in Facts.” CNN, Cable News Network, 24 Dec. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/12/24/politics/donald-trump-impeachment-republicans-senate-democrats/index.html.  “Acquittal Has Emboldened Donald Trump.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, www.economist.com/united-states/2020/02/15/acquittal-has-emboldened-donald-trump.  Lieberman, Robert C., Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts, & Richard Valelly. “Trumpism and American Democracy: History, Comparison, and the Predicament of Liberal Democracy in the United States.” Working paper.