If you’ve had the stomach to watch the videos shown to the U.S. Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, you saw and heard this chant from the mob that attacked the Capitol on January 6. This was the threat to the Vice President instigated by the President. The evidence is overwhelming. Trump inspired and directed the mob of crazed right-wing insurrectionists and conspiracy-believers to attack the Capitol to stop the counting of Electoral College votes so that he could declare himself the winner of the election he so clearly lost. I am no fan of Mike Pence as a politician or person but “Hang Mike Pence” and “Pence is a traitor” for refusing to follow Trump’s expressed direction to throw the election to him are simply, unequivocally, irrefutably wrong and unacceptable.
Political pundits of all stripes predict that the Republicans in the Senate, as Lindsey Graham and others have declared, will vote to acquit Trump despite the evidence, just as they did in his first impeachment for trying to strong-arm a foreign president to damage his expected election opponent. I am not going to waste space reciting the evidence against Trump or addressing the preposterous defenses that his hapless counsel have presented. No, my question today relates to a different aspect of this situation.
The question is simple enough: after the Republicans again prevent a guilty verdict, will the remaining Senators and Congresspeople just return to “politics as usual,” as they normally do after sometimes bruising political conflicts? Do they just go back to normal arguing, debating, schmoozing, dining together, attending meetings together and all the rest … as if this latest offense to truth and the Constitutional order were just another political difference of opinion?
Because it indisputably wasn’t just another difference of opinion. Based on the evidence, the mob sent by Trump was intent upon doing harm to not only the person second in succession to the presidency but also to members of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, third in the line of succession. The mob engaged the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police in a pitched battle for hours. The mob threw fists, threw fire extinguishers, beat police with hockey sticks and metal poles, hit police with bear spray and much more. For hours. Once inside the Capitol building, they ransacked offices while hunting for the prime targets of Trump’s and their anger. They desecrated the Capitol building not just with their presence but with their violence as they hunted for the fleeing members of Congress.
Those facts are not in dispute. The mob was fortunate in some ways that the police, for whatever reasons, did not fire on them. Imagine for just one moment what that scene would have looked like. Dead insurrectionists piling up in front of dead police (many of the mob were armed and almost certainly would have returned fire in close quarters with the defending police force). The worst that will happen to the mob now is that some of them will be convicted of multiple federal crimes, will be sentenced to prison terms, will lose their jobs and their families, and on and on. All for what? Some, of course, will be lionized by the Republican right-wing as heroes, a dubious honor already conferred on the woman who was shot trying to force her way into the House chamber. The others will disappear into well-earned obscurity.
Left behind will be the politicians, one group of which will have turned their backs on their colleagues to seek the favor of the mob back home that, while perhaps sharing the views of the January 6 attackers, stayed put and retains the right to vote in the next election. Left behind will be the politicians on the “other side of the aisle,” the mystical dividing line between the parties in the House and Senate chambers, most of whom are Democrats. A few will be Republicans who understood their higher duty and acted honorably, for which they are being vilified by Republican party leaders around the country. Left behind will be the Democrats holding slim majority power in both chambers and, of course, the White House. Left behind to deal with the carnage wrought by Trump’s violent and deranged army. Left behind also will be the Black Capitol Police officers who, well before January 6, had good reason to wonder if all their white colleagues really had their backs in a fight. See, for example, https://bit.ly/3u0aEds reporting on the long history of racism and other issues in the Capitol Police, largely ignored by Congress.
As those politicians who miraculously survived the mob assault return to their normal legislative work after the acquittal vote, how will they treat the senators who were perfectly content to have the mob kill them for doing their constitutional duty and for refusing to adopt the lies Donald Trump continued to promote about the election. How does one sit across from another politician with whom you have not just a profound disagreement about governance policies but who has basically said: “I am fine with your being murdered by a mob of Trump supporters because your life means nothing compared to keeping Trump, and myself, in power.?”
We’ve seen one hint, from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She responded to Ted Cruz’s tweet purporting to agree with her regarding the dispute over stock market activity/manipulation with this:
I am happy to work with Republicans on this issue where there’s common ground, but you almost had me murdered 3 weeks ago so you can sit this one out. Happy to work w/ almost any other GOP that aren’t trying to get me killed. In the meantime if you want to help, you can resign. [Tweet, Jan. 28]
AOC is well-known for speaking her mind and this is a situation that calls for bold and clear responses. Going along to get along just won’t do anymore.
The question Democrats and a handful of honorable Republicans will have to face is how to deal with the reality that, looking at the evidence, that the Trump-acquitting Republicans no longer see their opposing representatives as other than enemies in the truest sense of that word. This is not a case of just another political fight where afterward everyone hoists a drink to celebrate messy but glorious democracy and moves on to the next dispute. A line has been crossed and there is no going back from here. The Republican Party has forfeited its legitimacy as an American political institution and there must be consequences.
What those consequences are, I am not competent to describe, but the members of Congress who have prosecuted the case against Trump will have to deal with it. There is no going back; no return to politics as usual. The American public, the majority that still believes in the American concept of democracy, will have to face it as well. We cannot just go back to the Before Times, like nothing much happened, like this was just a bad episode in the march toward truth, justice and the American way. A large contingent of Republican senators didn’t even bother to show their faces today, on the last day of the prosecution presentation. Their disdain for the process, for the American way of political life, is blatant and undeniable.
In light of all of this, the challenge is overwhelming to contemplate, especially when added to the racial divisions that have afflicted the country for all these hundreds of years and that boiled over in the wake of the latest spate of killings of unarmed Black people by police. The mythical “idea of America” has been brutally exposed for its essential unreality and it’s a hard pill to swallow. But it’s a truth from which we cannot escape until we have faced the demon and vanquished it.