Last week, the U.S. Senate acquitted President Donald J. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress with both Democrats and Republicans largely sticking to party lines. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) voted to convict Trump for abuse of power, defying his party in a historic move. As the first U.S. senator to vote to remove a president from his own party, he faced degrading backlash and criticism from both his fellow Republicans and Trump, a sign of the extreme partisan divide sweeping our nation. As party polarization encourages isolation and conformity within parties, Romney should not be vilified for voting for Trump’s removal from office.
Party polarization has been increasing in recent years. There’s an 82–point party difference in the Republican and Democrat approval ratings of Trump, the largest gap in the history of polls measured by Gallup since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. That polarization follows a trend: former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush also received high gaps of approval between parties. Extreme party loyalty can have severe negative effects on our society, demonstrated most recently in Trump’s acquittal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) utilized this great division to deny a fair trial in the Senate, refusing to hear from witnesses and speeding the trial through the chamber as quickly as possible. Partisanship should not have a role in impeachment trials, and the Senate should have put forth a thorough trial.
The Republican Party’s unwavering support of Trump during the impeachment trial accentuates members’ obligatory loyalty toward their own group. Despite many Republicans admitting that Trump abused the power of his office, they still voted to acquit him, largely to placate their constituents and retain power.
In the paper “The Nature and Origins of Misperceptions,” political researchers found that polarization causes members of political parties to feel pressured to conform within their groups despite their personal beliefs. A CBS News report indicated that Republican senators were allegedly warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” This threat represents a prominent culture of fear in which elected officials are forced to conform to their party instead of acting in the best interests of their constituents. The Republicans were pressured into voting for Trump unless they wanted to be attacked on social media and face dismal re-election prospects without Trump’s support. The Republican Party would not have lost control of the executive power by virtue of Trump’s removal of office; Vice President Mike Pence would likely have advocated and worked toward their interests just the same.
Republican senators should have fought for a fair and just trial by hearing from witnesses and allowing more evidence to be presented. Regardless of their party’s interests, morality should trump party loyalty. Despite having little to lose in terms of policy from Trump’s removal from office, rampant partisanship demanded that Republicans vote to acquit Trump lest they risk losing voters and diminish their chances of re-election.
Trump’s rhetoric after his acquittal only further polarized our nation, making unification even more difficult going forward. He demonized anyone who spoke or voted against him, calling many Democrats “evil” and “vicious,” and condemned Romney for invoking his faith as a reason to vote for Trump’s guilt. His rhetoric only served to further polarize the parties, and coerce Republicans into standing by him unless they want to be vilified in the media. Trump’s response was a stark contrast to former President Bill Clinton’s post-acquittal speech, in which he apologized for his role and moved for unification amongst the parties and the people of America. By attacking the foundation of the trial, Trump denounced our legal system and democracy. His language deepened the antagonistic divide in our country, pitting anyone who disagreed with him as the enemy.
We must not vilify people such as Romney for going against their party, but rather foster a culture of cooperation across party lines. Partisanship demanded that Republicans act in favor of Trump rather than provide a fair trial. By doing so, Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump emboldened the president to continue to engage in illegal activities without any repercussions. This acquittal was not a trial; it was a battle of partisanship. The deep-rooted polarization in our country has effectively made Trump’s greatest wish come true: the Republican Party has morphed into the Trump Party.
Brammhi Balarajan (23C) is from Las Vegas.