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Former president Donald Trump has repeatedly been called “Teflon Don” during his presidency – a moniker used for the late mob boss John Gotti to describe how consequences for his bad actions apparently don’t stick to him.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Related: Senate Republicans stand by their man and Trump wins his second acquittal | David Smith’s sketch

While Gotti was ultimately convicted of 13 counts in 1992, Trump has fared far better in beating allegations of misconduct. He has now been acquitted twice by the US Senate – once under Republican control and under Democratic control. He has thus skipped being charged with inciting the deadly 6 January attack on the Capitol and prior to that allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Both times the acquittals felt virtually inevitable, given Trump’s Republican allies remained largely loyal. But his second acquittal now speaks to something increasingly problematic about the American political system’s ultimate ability to curtail presidential abuses of power: for many the impeachment process no longer presents much of a threat or deterrent to bad, or even illegal, behavior by the most powerful figure in the land.

© Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images Republican senators Josh Holly and Ted Cruz on Saturday. Both times the acquittals felt virtually inevitable, given Trump’s Republican allies remained largely loyal.

During Trump’s second trial no witnesses were even called – spurring some commentators to condemn Democrats’ decision as a moral failure.

“This is why I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican … One side is a front business for a white nationalist terrorist organization and the other doesn’t feel threatened enough by white nationalists to actually wield power to make our multicultural democracy sustainable,” MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson said on Twitter when it was revealed witnesses wouldn’t be called.

Historians believe the acquittals will have long-term impacts, some of which are not yet known, according to an Axios analysis. Historian Douglas Brinkley told the website that acquittal would show that the power of impeachment is virtually nil. “Impeachment is a political process, and we got a political result out of it,” Brinkley said.

Meanwhile, Andrew Rudalevige, an expert on presidential power at Bowdoin College, told Axios: “Congress not even pushing back against a physical assault suggests that there’s a lot they will put up with.”

Meanwhile, CNN commentator Doug Jones, a former Democratic Alabama US senator, wrote earlier this week that the evidence in the second impeachment trial appeared overwhelming.

“In any trial, the accusing party must connect the dots between the words and actions of the defendant to the harm that occurred. Over the last two days, the House managers did just that,” he stated. “The House managers connected all of these dots to the video of Trump finally telling insurrectionists to leave but also that they were ‘special,’ that he loved them and that they should ‘remember this day forever’.”

Jones concluded: “If Trump’s actions are not impeachable, then nothing is, and we may as well strike that provision from the constitution.”

After the vote, Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, who predictably was among the 43 not guilty votes, gave a speech in which he seemed to condemn Trump while not addressing at all why he had also voted to find him not guilty.

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically, and morally, responsible for provoking the events of the day.” McConnell said and also remarked that Trump is “still liable for everything he did while he’s in office. He didn’t get away with anything yet.”

Yet, when presented with a chance to find Trump guilty himself, McConnell chose to acquit.

That seems to show that the impeachment process and trial in the Senate will lose its power of deterrence, as politics – not any judgment of law or right or wrong – is what actually informs its decisions. Therefore, Trump’s strong political power among Republicans was actually the deciding factor in the trial, not any legal argument or burden of proof of wrongdoing.

That is not likely to instill a fear of impeachment for future presidents. In fact, it is likely to encourage strong-arm behaviour.

Kurt Bardella, a onetime Republican congressional aide who changed to the Democratic party, recently told the Guardian: “It’s a demonstration that his status as the leader of the Republican party is unchanged, even though the results of the election have shown that his agenda is a losing agenda for the Republican party.”

“If you send a signal that someone who vocally led a violent insurrection against American democracy can do so without consequence, you’re only sending the message that he should do this again, that it’s OK: you are condoning that behavior,” Bardella commented.

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