Editorial: Trump's impeachment makes us more united, not less
When the U.S. Senate takes up the impeachment trial of ex-president Donald Trump next week, the focus will be on the Jan. 6 insurrection of the nation’s Capitol and Trump’s role in inciting his supporters to “stop the steal” — the big lie that Trump had incessantly repeated since he lost the election more than 60 days prior.
No objective American can argue that Trump’s words and actions, since his overwhelming Nov. 3 defeat to Democrat Joe Biden, were not designed to stall and disrupt normal election protocol, to overturn valid election results in every possible way (including political pressure on election officials, judges and state politicians), and, on Jan. 6, to disrupt the state-by-state awarding of electoral college votes to President-elect Biden by militant force.
The rightwing, largely white supremacist crowd of Trump supporters who gathered in Washington that day, came at the ex-president’s request and many believed he would be providing credible evidence that the election was stolen from him.
When Trump incited the crowd to march on the nation’s Capitol, egging them on with statements that they had to fight to get what was theirs, that weakness was not an option, and that he would be marching up to the Capitol with them, it’s not difficult to connect cause with effect. That Trump snuck back to the White House to watch the melee from the safety of his couch, and that he never provided evidence to prove his case, didn’t matter to Trump. He had staged his insurrection and left his willing believers to do his dirty work for him.
That Trump hesitated for hours to appeal to his supporters to stop the violence, despite personal pleas from congressional Republicans under attack and despite Trump watching the violence on live TV, is a window into Trump’s thinking. This was an assault on the nation’s democratic system that, in his mind, had betrayed him — so he was out to betray it and get what he felt was rightfully his, and even if it didn’t work, to cause havoc as the rebel rouser his fans love him to be.
That Trump would play so recklessly with violence is one of the reasons his presidency was so dangerous to America’s democracy. The insurrection was the latest insult, topping a mountain of sins.
After thousands of hours of investigative work by the FBI, national security intelligence and others, we’ve learned that Trump had tried all manner of ways to overturn valid election results; that he had tried to place Trump-friendly Justice Department officials into positions of power and reshuffle personnel in his administration, all to get the right people to sidestep the nation’s democracy so he could stay in power.
Those efforts displayed, without a doubt, treasonous intent.
But because the impeachment indictment will focus on just the insurrection and Trump’s role in it, that small sliver of Trump’s actions will be the initial focus, while the larger picture dominates the backdrop.
The toll of the assault is damning enough: According to a recent Washington Post report, police found: “Feces spread on walls; (recorded) calls to hunt down and shoot Ms. Pelosi and hang Republican Vice President Mike Pence; police blinded with bear spray and attacked with metal poles, fire extinguishers, crutches and wooden boards. At least 81 Capitol Police officers and about 65 D.C. police officers suffered injuries that included cracked ribs, head injuries and smashed spinal discs. One officer is likely to lose an eye. A graphic video obtained by the New York Times showed rioters trampling a woman as they attacked police. The 34-year-old woman died, as did three other rioters and Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick. Two police officers died by suicide days after the attack…. Federal officials have estimated that roughly 800 people stormed into the Capitol, and so far, more than 135 individuals have been charged.”
In light of the attack, it is shocking many congressional Republicans are now trying to diminish the assault as if it was now being exaggerated by Democrats to make Trump look bad.
What the entire nation witnessed on television, right in front of their eyes, was a unruly mob, intoxicated by Trump’s defiance and encouragement, storm the nation’s Capitol in pursuit of a lie that Republicans had also encouraged and allowed to fester. That most Republicans are implicit in Trump’s treasonous behavior is no doubt why they want to excuse Trump and move on; it’s why they want to diminish the crimes committed against the country; it’s why they feel compelled to double-down denying the assault on our democracy because to concede fault is to bear the shame of what was done.
But no one comes clean by hiding the truth.
Lies that are buried, live and rot within.
The Senate and the nation should not only hear the case against Trump, and his defense, but study it. As Americans, we need to understand Trump’s manifestation to better protect against another such assault from a future tyrant and misguided party leaders. We need to look at our political parties to understand why Trump benefitted by insulting and belittling fellow Republicans in the primary; why his sexist comments were appealing to a majority of white women; why his use of race baiting had white crowds chatting his name; why guns and violence have replaced policy to become the center of Republican politics; and, above all, why Trump had such success pitting Americans against each other.
Those in the intelligence community should be encouraged to share the breadth of the white supremacists’ movement so we can better understand its militancy, and how that danger can be manipulated by a power-hungry leader intent on autocratic rule.
And Americans should seek to understand how Trump used the repetition of lies to undermine the truth — throughout his presidency but brought to a head in this one big lie of the stolen election — and how fragile, therefore, our system of democracy truly is.
The reality is that our system depends on honorable leaders, and honorable networks and news media, to tell the truth and not create “alternative realities.” When powerful leaders intentionally and methodically undermine truth, and when some news outlets forsake truth to propagandize for profit, our democracy hangs by a tenuous thread.
If Americans understand just that much from this trial, it will strengthen our democracy and make us more united, not less.