For President Trump’s entire life, the notion of accountability has been a foreign concept — something that applied to everyone but him. He bankrupted multiple businesses, stiffed contractors and creditors, walked away from the wreckage of failed companies and failed marriages, with virtual impunity — always able to find a new set of benefactors or enablers.
When his casinos were losing money, his wealthy father bailed him out. When he needed to keep an affair that could doom his presidential bid quiet, he sent hush money to make it go away. As president, he found a new coterie of feckless cowards to cover up his misdeeds and help him avoid any political consequences for his actions.
On Wednesday evening that run ended with impeachment. After 73 years, Trump finally received the public comeuppance he has so richly deserved.
To be sure, there was good reason to think that day would never come. Since the moment Trump took office, there’s hardly been an impeachable offense, attack on basic decorum, or violation of a political norm and trust that Trump hasn’t committed. Yet, he paid no personal or political price for any of it.
The Russia investigation? He called it a witch hunt. Close aides and friends indicted or sent to jail? He said he barely knew them and they were losers anyway. Republican losses in the midterm elections? Somebody else’s fault. There was always someone to blame and courtesy of his GOP enablers in the House and Senate — and his White House staff constantly cleaning up his messes — no accountability to him for his actions.
While those same Republicans spent Wednesday arguing, ad nauseum, that Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since the day he took office, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, for nine months, Democrats stubbornly resisted calls for impeachment. They became just one more group of actors afraid to tangle with Trump.
Even after the Mueller Report came out, detailing 10 episodes of the president obstructing justice, Democrats still wouldn’t go the route of impeachment. But then on Ukraine the president went too far.
For the first time, someone was willing to say “enough is enough.” He finally met his match in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, and House Democrats. In the past, Trump successfully cowed those with the power to hold him accountable. As a businessman, it was the constant threat of lawsuits that kept culpability at bay. As president, it was the menace of a presidential tweet and his cult-like support among GOP partisans that kept congressional Republicans from speaking up.
But as it became increasingly clear that Trump could not bully or intimidate House Democrats into bending to his will, his anger became more intense — as witnessed by the deranged six-page letter of grievances he sent to Pelosi on Tuesday. It was the ultimate example of Trump lashing out at someone hecould not control.
Democrats spent much of Wednesday describing impeachment as a sorrowful moment for the country — a solemn occasion. But the only sorrow I could see was that it took this long for this moment to happen. Rather than an occasion for regret, the House vote on Wednesday should be considered a moment of celebration and national renewal.
When the Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution more than two centuries ago, they did so with a radical and revolutionary concept — that the rule of law was, and must be, more powerful than the rule of man. In the late 18th century, there was no democratically-elected president. Political leadership was passed on via succession or by the cannon and the sword. America’s founders conceived of a different sort of government — one in which the nation’s leader would be accountable to the people via the ballot box. And if that leader abused his or her power (as they feared might happen), or acted like the unbending tyrant they had rebelled against when seeking their freedom, Congress would be given the remedy of impeachment to remove such an individual from a power.
This concept of democratic accountability is one of the great gifts of American democracy — and one that today is largely taken for granted in many countries around the world. That impeachment is rarely utilized is a good thing; that it occasionally needs to be employed when a leader violates the public trust is a sign of the resilience of our democracy. Wednesday offered a reminder of what makes the American system of government so unique and so great. In America, no man or woman is above the law.
As Trump finally learned, that means him too.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.