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Trump at a December rally to support Republican Senate candidates. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

It's not lost on historians that Donald Trump's likely impeachment trial acquittal could fall on Presidents' Day weekend, a holiday celebrating the examples set by America's first president, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln, who held the republic together through civil war and ended slavery.

Why it matters: Through his repeated efforts to overturn the election, Trump put the country through one of the toughest tests of democracy it has ever faced. Historians say his expected acquittal on a charge of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection will have consequences we are only beginning to understand — and they'll be felt for years.

The big picture: Historians are examining this moment — the election fraud lie, the efforts to overturn the results through violence, the impeachment of a president days before his exit, and the actions of his own party to block his conviction — through many lenses.

The power of impeachment: That's pretty much gone. Historian Douglas Brinkley says Trump's acquittal will make the limits of its power obvious: it's a political process, not a legal one.

  • Trump is more likely to face danger from the legal investigations that are happening elsewhere, Brinkley said.
  • They include New York's criminal and civil investigations of his businesses to the newly launched probe by the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney into the January phone call where he pushed Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to change the election outcome there.
  • "Impeachment is a political process, and we got a political result out of it."

America's changing demographics: Renee Romano, an Oberlin College professor who specializes in the field of historical memory, says the impeachment outcome raises the question: "Can America ever truly be a multiracial democracy?'"

  • She sees it as the result of tension between two opposing historical narratives — one saying the election was stolen and violence is justified to take it back, the other saying Joe Biden won legitimately because more people support the Democrats and they were able to assemble a multiracial coalition.
  • "I think a lot of this is about race, and entitlement ... and now, we’re at a stage where you basically have to use violence to overthrow the results of a democratic election to protect white minority power."
  • "In any society where you have such a divide over how you see reality, that’s an unstable country," Romano said. "I’m not hopeful for the future of the country."

Congress leaves the field: With this acquittal, the Senate has passed on two chances to hold a president accountable for undermining the power and authority of Congress, said Andrew Rudalevidge, an expert on presidential power.

  • In last year's impeachment, the second article charged Trump with obstruction of Congress for ordering administration officials to ignore congressional subpoenas.
  • This time, the central issue is Trump's role in a physical attack on Congress. "Congress not even pushing back against a physical assault suggests that there's a lot they will put up with," Rudalevige said.
  • "It's a President's Day present: an affirmation of the autonomy of the executive branch."

The bottom line: The speedy trial was designed to allow America to move on — but the wounds from Jan. 6 are so deep that it's nowhere near ready to move on.

This story has been updated to clarify the timing of the vote.

Go deeper

Updated Feb 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The daily highlights from Trump's 2nd Senate impeachment trial

Trucks with LED screens displaying anti-Trump messages in front of the Capitol. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

President Trump was acquitted by the Senate on Feb. 13 in his second impeachment trial, in which he was faced a single charge from the House of Representatives for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

The big picture: At five days, it was the fastest impeachment trial of a U.S. president and ended with the most bipartisan conviction vote in history. Still, the seven Republicans who joined all Democrats were not enough to reach the two-thirds majority necessary for conviction.

Updated Feb 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Inside Trump's impeachment defense

Trump defense attorneys Bruce Castor (left) and Michael van der Veen. Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump's legal defense will focus entirely on process, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The attorneys representing the former president know it's fruitless to continue defending his actions preceding the Capitol attack. Instead, they'll say none of that matters because the trial itself is unconstitutional — an argument many Republican senators are ready to embrace.

Impeachment trial recap, day 4: Trump's team concludes speedy defense

Members of former President Donald Trumps defense team, David Schoen, center left, Michael van der Veen, center, and Bruce Castor, center right, arrive at the Capitol. Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images

Donald Trump's legal team argued four key points during its defense of the former president on Friday — all focused on process.

The big picture: The lawyers delivered a swift defense in which they called the House charge that the former president incited the Jan. 6 insurrection a "preposterous and monstrous lie." In their presentation, the defense team asserted that the trial itself is unconstitutional; there was no due process; convicting Trump violates his First Amendment rights; and impeachment fails to unify the country.