A respected friend of mine wrote me after a recent column to ask “did you really mean that about impeachment being a Democrat ‘revenge-fest?’”

Given that he’s a lifelong Republican who, for his livelihood, is paid to lobby GOP members of Congress, his question threw me. By focusing on the motives of the impeachers, I did miss the point. Inciting a riot against the constitutional order is a high crime even if it is also a misdemeanor.

This impeachment is not, as Marco Rubio recently put it, “stupid.” Instead, is a measure of what we currently acceptable in our society. When an abuser mistreats someone they are supposed to love, the response of the abused plays a part in what comes next. Is the abuse brushed off, or is it confronted somehow?

As far as last year’s impeachment went, Rubio was right. Knowing Ukraine a little better than the average media pundit, I saw that exercise as subjective, petty, and irrelevant to most Americans. Asking the Ukrainians to look into the abundantly shady Hunter Biden (“Hunter did nothing wrong!”) might have been distasteful, but it was not grounds for removal.

This time, it’s different.

On Friday, former President Donald Trump’s defense argued procedure before the Senate, which is kind of like lecturing penguins on how to eat fish. If you’ve ever seen a Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood movie, you know the scum-ball always gets off on a technicality. Whether or not the Senate can try a private citizen is hardly a matter of huge concern to most — including your correspondent, whose life this Senate wrecked. It’s what they do.

Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who has an ordinarily fine mind, suggested Trump get a “mulligan” this time. The problem with that is that he already had his, arguably more than once before.

Trump did incite that crowd Jan. 6, the whole country saw it happen. While it is not a crime to be angry at Congress (if you’re not angry at Congress perhaps you should have your vitals checked), giving ordinary Americans permission to do what ensued should be. Most of the “insurrectionists,” I’d wager, thought they were fighting for America because the president told them so.

Our system of justice is not engineered to punish the big fish. Look at Jeffrey Epstein, he was too big for it, as were the banks who led us into the 2008 crash. Instead, it nets the small fry in an exercise so cynical and contorted that most prefer to simply look away.

Federal prosecutors delight in throwing the book at a liquor storeowner who gave the inspector a holiday gift, while letting their own overlords get away with corruption on a scale too big to fit into their tiny statutes.

By this logic, there exist plenty of loopholes to avoid convicting Trump. Which Republicans will cower in the shade of this cover, and which ones will distinguish themselves — as Bill Cohen did back in Watergate?

My expectations of this Senate (or the last one for that matter) doing anything useful is very low. In an earlier piece, I did discount impeachment, in part because it seems so feckless, especially after the fact.

If Trump committed a crime, try him in a court of law like anyone else, and attach a penalty more meaningful than being barred from federal office. Yet this is the best they can do, if they can manage to actually do it. For this moment anyhow, we have to be content with symbols.

To her credit, Susan Collins saw the present moment coming and suggested the Senate pursue censure instead so at least some marker be thrown down, as was the case with the end of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (whom her predecessor, Margaret Chase Smith, actually stood up to). Yet things went a different way. Now our recently reelected Republican senator faces another choice.

As far as Mainers are concerned, only one vote matters. For the country as a whole, the question becomes which relics of today’s Republican party have the strength, courage and ingenuity to reinvent themselves.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.