Due to that pandemic-distorted sense of time most of us have been experiencing, the U.S. Senate’s vote in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial already appears to be passing into history.

That may not be a bad thing. It means the Biden presidency can begin in earnest as, under new leadership, the nation grapples with a multitude of issues that have long been neglected – and can no longer be ignored.

Yet history will view Jan. 6, 2021 – the date of the insurrection and storming of the Capitol – on a par with Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001, two other occasions when America was under attack, though from adversaries without, not within, our country.

It also recalls an even earlier date – April 12, 1861, when Confederate batteries bombarded Fort Sumter, bringing on the Civil War, the only other moment when the compact created by the Constitution was in similar doubt.

It’s an open question how future generations will see the trial verdict – believing that 43 senators ignored overwhelming evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and voted to acquit; or that 57, including seven from the former president’s party, voted to convict. It will take time, perhaps a long time, to find an answer.

One of the seven Republicans was Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, aligning with Angus King, an independent who usually votes with the Democrats. They had their own methods of weighing the evidence, and their conclusions are worth a look from their constituents.

Collins chose a straightforward description of the events of Jan. 6, and those leading up to them, dispassionately reviewing the now-familiar course from pre-election taunts about a “rigged” election to the two months of refusals to accept the obvious – that the winner of a “free and fair” election was not the incumbent.

One point where Collins’s indignation was thoroughly aroused was the notorious attempt to “find votes” long after the results had been certified. She called this “an incredible effort to pressure state elections officials,” adding, “In an extraordinary phone call, President Trump could be heard alternating between lobbying, cajoling, intimidating and threatening the election officials in Georgia.”

Of all the lines of legality and tradition the former president crossed, this one seemed to matter most to Collins.

King set out his differences with Trump early on. These disagreements, he said, included “decisions that made America less safe, less prepared for the challenges of the future, and less connected to the values that have defined our nation since its founding.”

He cited the effort to “delegitimize the election” and 60 court cases that followed, all featuring “demonstrably false claims.”

It was after Trump’s call to march on the Capitol that the most egregious moment occurred, in King’s view, as the mob roamed the halls: “It was only then – when the seat of democracy was under attack – that President Trump went silent . . . his lies drove people to violence, and when the violence came, his silence was deafening.”

Both political parties have much to consider; the current censure motions can safely be termed a sideshow. As the party losing the presidency and Congress, however, Republicans have a greater burden.

It may seem harsh, but it’s accurate to say that Republicans have done much to sow distrust in our political institutions.

Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980 convinced many that the federal government – chiefly the Executive Branch – couldn’t be trusted. During his brief tenure as House speaker, Newt Gingrich insisted Congress could not be trusted, either.

And throughout four tumultuous years as president, Donald Trump argued that no one in government could be trusted – except him.

This isn’t a trajectory that accords with what most of us believe, or aspire to believe, about representative self-government: that the law is superior to any individual leader.

According to the Washington Post, Trump made 30,000 false or misleading statements during his time in office – something his supporters chose to ignore, and which many more became numb to.

Yet the “big lie,” as King put it, of the “stolen election” is what pushed things to the brink. King said, “We need all Americans to know that our political differences are solved at the ballot box, not through brute force.”

Collins drew the same conclusion: “The hallmark of our American democracy is the peaceful transfer of power . . . In America, we accept election results even if our candidate does not prevail.”

That echoed a memorable line from Joe Biden’s inaugural address, when he said, “Democracy has prevailed.”

So far, at least.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, reporter, opinion writer and author for 36 years, has published books about George Mitchell, and the Maine Democratic Party. He welcomes comment at [email protected]

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