Arguments that former President Donald Trump should be excused by the Senate because he’s already left office are missing the point. In no particular order, here are some reasons why Mr. Trump must be tried and convicted, even now:
- Because he is, in fact, guilty of sedition. Neither the culpability of others, nor the First Amendment, establish his innocence under the indictment. Because of his oath, his office and the grave responsibilities attached to each, greatest weight belongs to cause and effect. Mr. Trump wasn’t blind to his words’ effects. The riot was deeply disturbing. But it was unsurprising to those paying attention, which would have included Mr. Trump.
- Because excusing him would set a precedent.
- Because if the oath of office isn’t upheld, loyalty to the Constitution will continue being replaced by loyalty to a demagogue.
- Because if the Senate doesn’t uphold the credibility of the courts in rejecting Mr. Trump’s passionate claims of a “stolen” election, the entire judiciary will be undermined in favor of financially incentivized media outlets, biased politicians, and conspiracy theorists. His alleged “evidence,” boasted of publicly but either deemed worthless under judicial scrutiny or else never submitted for consideration in the first place, is not a defense.
- Because the Republican Party needs to survive in more than just name. Now, more than ever, it needs the strength of its moderate voices, unquelled, to halt the party’s drift toward greater extremism. There may never be a less controversial time to draw that line in the sand than in the shadow of a widely condemned insurrection. There will be no end to Mr. Trump’s divisive rhetoric. He will be heard. But convicting him now will weaken his influence and prevent his reelection. This opportunity won’t come again.
Leaving office doesn’t compare as a determining factor.