The ultimate irony of the Republican sabotage, however, is that impeachment was unquestionably the most appropriate remedy for Trump’s actions. It was an absolute necessity, and now the entire nation will suffer the consequences. Yet again.
Whether or not what Trump did was criminal is as yet undetermined, but even Sen. Mitch McConnell himself honed in on the central sin of Trump’s actions. It was, at the very least, an unforgivable dereliction of duty. When faced with a clear and present need to defend the country, Trump did not. He betrayed his oath. He proved himself not just unfit for office, but a malevolent figure willing to use even violence against lawmakers as avenue for further political power.
Even if it could be argued that Trump did not intend for violence or threats to transpire, in the minutes after a speech in which he urged the crowd to march to the Capitol and intimidate the assembled Congress, it was unquestionable that Trump sought to use the violence for his advantage as it unfolded. He singled out Mike Pence after learning that Pence was still present in the building, upon which the mob went hunting for Mike Pence. He mocked Rep. Kevin McCarthy, as rioters attempted to break through McCarthy’s office door.
Trump knew that violence was occurring, and still used that violence to intimidate his enemies rather than swiftly demand reinforcements to protect Congress.
There is no question of this. It is not in dispute. To say it was dereliction of duty is, to be sure, an understatement.
The only remedy requested through impeachment, however, was one both practical and essential. Trump may have left office the two weeks between coup and inauguration of his successor, but his dereliction was so severe that Congress was asked to offer up its only available constitutional remedy: barring him from future office. That was all. The Senate was not debating whether to jail Trump, or to exile him. The Senate was debating whether or not to bar Donald Trump, proven to be incompetent or malicious, from ever returning to an office he in all probability will never again inhabit. After multiple deaths inside the U.S. Capitol, it was a political wrist slap.
But by refusing to do it, Republican senators offered up a technicality-laced defense of insurrection as political act. By immunizing him from the only credible consequence for his dereliction, Republican lawmakers have granted him an authority to try again. They have asserted to his base, their own Republican base, a white supremacist froth of the conspiracy-riddled far-right, that Trump did no wrong in asking them to block the certification of an American election. Oh, it may have been wrong. But, according to the speeches and declarations of those who have protected Trump’s most malevolent acts time and time again, not consequences-worthy wrong.
Trump’s rally that day, and his months of hoax-based propaganda before it, were all premised around a demand to nullify a United States presidential election he did not win. It was called Stop the Steal, and Trump and his allies demanded as remedy the overturning of the election, either by individual states that voted for the opposition candidate or through the United States Congress erasing those electoral votes outright.
It was, from the outset, an attempted coup. The very premise was to nullify an election so that he might be reappointed leader despite losing it. It was an insurrection before the crowd on January 6 ever turned violent; it was an insurrection when Trump asked the assembled crowd, in the precise minutes timed to coincide with the counting of electoral votes, to march to the Capitol building to demand the Senate overturn the elections results.
It had help. Multiple Republican senators were themselves eager to support Trump’s attempted coup using their own tools of office. Even the supposed institutionalists, if the word even has meaning at this point, kept their silence and refrained from acknowledging the Democratic opponent as the election’s winner. It was a tactical silence, meant to measure out whether Trump’s team of bumbling lawyers and organized propaganda could produce results before coming down cleanly on the side of democracy or of insurrection. While Trump’s most fervent allies embraced his claims and poked away at the election, looking for weaknesses, the party at large remained silent. Trump’s actions may have been deplorable, but they were not out of party bounds. There were precious few condemnations, and elections officials in Georgia and elsewhere were left to defend themselves against outrageous lies to whatever extent they were able.
Among those they had to defend themselves to: Republican senators like Lindsey Graham, themselves inquiring as to the possible methods of simply erasing enough votes as to find Donald Trump the “true” winner.
Trump intended to overturn an election. Trump went so far as to finance and schedule a mass rally of supporters to appear at the Capitol with instructions to let those inside know that the election must be overturned. Trump sat back and watched as violence quickly followed, and responded by goading the crowd to go after an enemy, by refusing congressional pleas for intervention, and by sneering at lawmakers fearing for their lives.
By evading the question before them, Trump’s Republican allies have established the toppling of democratic government and the nullification of American elections as, along with using elected office as profit center and extorting an at-war foreign nation into falsely smearing an election opponent, political tools allowed to those that would pursue political power. Demanding the nullification of an election may be unseemly, when done by movement leaders. But it is allowed. It will be backed by Republican lawmakers, and those same Republican lawmakers will brush aside whatever consequences the attempter may face if the attempt ends in failure.
This weekend saw what is perhaps the most consequential new recognition of the American fascist movement as quasi-legitimized political entity. Perhaps Trump’s Republican protectors intended such, and perhaps they did not, but the outcome will be the same.
The contrary position here was, by comparison, effortless. Republican senators could have detached Trump from his position as would-be autocratic “leader” with a simple acknowledgement that his actions, during a time of true national crisis, were so horrific as to render him unfit for future office. That is all. Trump could fume, Trump could raise money against enemies, Trump could grift his pissant little life away all he likes, but he, personally, could never take office again. His authoritarian cult would be deprived of the precise and only goal of its insurrection: re-installing him as leader.
The message would have been clear: Violence as political tool is disqualifying. Forever.
Not violence as political tool is unfortunate. Not violence as political tool is unseemly, but due to various technicalities and the current schedule cannot be responded to. Violence as political tool is an unforgivable act, whether such support is tacit or explicit, whether it was planned or it was spontaneous, and we will all stand united to declare that no matter what your political ambitions may be you are not allowed to do that. You are not allowed to incite an already-violent crowd with a new message singling out a specific fleeing enemy. You are not allowed to respond to multiple calls for urgent assistance by telling a lawmaker that perhaps the rioting crowd were right to be angry, rather than sending that help. You are not allowed to spend months propagating fraudulent, malevolent hoaxes intended to delegitimize democracy itself rather than accept an election loss, culminating in a financed and organized effort to threaten the United States Congress with a mob of now-unhinged supporters demanding your reinstallation by force.
If that was a bridge too far, on the part of the same Republican senators who coddled Trump’s attempts to nullify an American election and spread democracy-eroding hoaxes in their own speeches, we can all imagine why.