Impeachment, President Trump, and Evidence That Demands a Verdict
This is the piece I never thought I would have to write.
Two of Ordinary Times’ best writers have laid out the events of the last few days far better than I can, so I will refer to them by way of review. Vikram, after first calling for the immediate impeachment of the president during the all-night Joint Session following the riots, followed up with a detailed reviewing of January 6, 2021 and the chaos that engulfed the United States Capitol and left 5 people dead:
That is the end of the speech, scheduled to end just before election certification would start. We know that after this the crowd headed down Pennsylvania Avenue as directed by Trump, though he did not accompany him as his speech indicated he would. After walking, they entered the Capitol building, leading directly to the deaths of at least five people.
President Trump did not tell anyone to enter the building. He merely told them that “if you don’t fight like Hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Additionally, he says they are going to give “going to try and give [the weak Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” It’s not clear to me how that would be possible without physically entering the Capitol building.
For sake of argument, let’s say you believe that Trump always means for his speech to be taken in the most metaphorical way possible and never intends on anyone actually committing violence. Even assuming this, one would think Trump would at some point realize that a lot of people listen to him and interpret his words as marching orders.
Trump knows that his supporters are capable of violence he mentioned this in 2016 when he predicted his supporters would riot if he did not win the GOP nomination.
His fellow Republicans in 2016 accused Trump of encouraging violence at his rallies:
“I think a campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz told reporters in Illinois Friday night, as networks beamed in live footage of the protests. “When a candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence, to punch people in the face, the predictable consequence of that is that it escalates, and today is unlikely to be the last such instance.”
Earlier in the day, Florida Senator Marco Rubio strongly condemned Trump, saying there were “consequences” to his words.
“I would point out there isn’t violence at my events, there isn’t violence at Ted’s events, there isn’t violence at a Kasich event, there isn’t violence at a Sanders event, there isn’t violence at a Clinton event,” he told reporters. “There’s only one presidential candidate who has violence at their events.”
For his part, Trump offered to his supporters:
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them,” he said at a separate February rally in Iowa. “Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees.”
This is Trump’s history.
For her part, Em Carpenter broke down the legalities of incitement and free speech issues from the events that started as a rally and ended in a riot, and concludes thusly about the president:
It is quite fairly argued that (President Trump) didn’t say those things because he knew he didn’t have to, that he should have known and probably did know what a powder keg he was lighting with his words. No one can seriously suggest that Trump was unaware of the rhetoric online or the overzealousness of his supporters; he is much too online for that. But again, this is the First Amendment we are analyzing. Combine with the reasonable doubt requirement of a criminal conviction, and prosecuting Trump for his words that day becomes a very tall order, in my opinion.
This is not to say his words and actions — and those of Cruz and Hawley — weren’t repugnant. Contemptible. Deserving of any political and social consequences that may follow. But they probably managed to just tiptoe the line of criminal without crossing. It is reasonable to argue that their rhetoric is to blame for what occurred, but moral blame is not the same as criminal liability. Free speech is not absolute, but it is pretty darn near.
Now congress is expected to vote on impeachment come Wednesday.
While the vast majority of House Republicans are expected to oppose the article of impeachment on Wednesday, there are expectations there could be as many as 10 — maybe more, maybe less — breaking ranks, according to House GOP aides.
Democrats are nearly united in their belief that the President deserves to be impeached and removed in the fallout of the pro-Trump rioters that breached the Capitol and put the lives of lawmakers — and Vice President Mike Pence — in danger on January 6th. The House will first vote on a measure Tuesday evening urging Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from power, which could signal how many Republicans will back impeachment.
Then on Wednesday, the House will take up a resolution and vote to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection.”
Trump’s impeachment for the second time in 13 months — which would make him the first President in history to be impeached twice — appears to be a foregone conclusion. The only question is how many House members vote in favor of removing the President from office eight days before President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in.
House Republican leaders won’t whip their colleagues and tell them to vote against the impeachment resolution on Wednesday, according to leadership aides. Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 in GOP leadership who has been sharply critical of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, did not tell her members how to vote Monday, but she called the impeachment vote a “vote of conscience.” Cheney has not said how she will vote.
The president himself, having been removed from his social media voice, finally spoke out today on his way to Alamo, TX for a border wall visit, and answered a question about his responsibility in the riots:
Q: “What is your role in what happened at the Capitol? What is your personal responsibility?”
President Trump: “If you read my speech…people thought that what I said was totally appropriate.” pic.twitter.com/90Pdt8xFSz
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 12, 2021
So, what do we do about all this?
You can read the Article of Impeachment for yourself here. It is short and straightforward, with only a brief side trip through the president’s phone call with Georgia election officials to buttress the events of January 6th.
Congress should be ashamed of itself. They have dithered and politicked as usual even after a direct assault on themselves and the place they and their staffs work. It boggles the mind that the House and Senate currently sit adjourned. After the all night Joint Session that certified the vote after the long delay due to thuggish violence, many felt impeachment should be done right then, or the next morning at the latest. Instead, Congress has spent a week demanding and writing resolutions about the 25th Amendment which is outside their purview, not going to happen anyway, and mostly a machination to pass the buck to others. But they have finally brought impeachment, after an attempt to enter by consent was blocked on Sunday. All of the House of Representatives will now go on record, some for a second time, whether or not to vote for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
This will almost certainly not remove the president. The Senate is adjourned until the 19th, the inauguration is the 20th, and that will be that — or so the argument from the Senate Republican leadership will go. Not-yet Majority Leader Schumer is left trying to land a Hail Mary procedural call to recall the Senate, and failing that is batting around the idea of holding the impeachment trial after the inauguration. The uncharted territory and legalities of going through a process designed to remove a president from office who no longer is, is a debate we will leave to others.
Still the impeachment vote raises the question, and that question needs answered: Should Donald Trump remain the President of the United States, however briefly, after the events of January 6th?
It certainly feels like something has changed, as if there is a “soft 25th” going on where large swaths of the government have now bypassed the president. The continued and growing reporting that the president was not only unreachable during the crisis but utterly perplexed and unwilling to see it as anything wrong is a mix of stunning and unsurprising only late-stage Trump could produce. The dam among congressional leaders certainly seems to have broken and many, after spending half a day fearing for their lives, clearly find their viewpoints have changed. The President’s own language this morning is not changed; that statement about “They’ve analyzed my speech, my words…Everybody to a T thought it was appropriate” could just as easily been about the Ukraine call, the Charlottesville comments, the Raffensperger “find 11,780 votes” comments, or pick any of a dozen other things. While repeating there “must be no violence” he still couches all things against him as causing great anger. It is the same pattern over, and over, and over again.
And now the president is going to be impeached over again.
Is it worth it? Impeachment is a terrible, traumatic thing for the country, many folks argue. I’ve argued that twice now in my adult lifetime, first with President Clinton and last year with President Trump. Trauma, though, is a relative thing, and response to trauma is greatly influenced by past experiences. We as a country have now experienced the trauma of watching a mob overrun the halls of our government, cower our congress, beat a police officer to death, necessitate the shooting of a rioter as she tried to lead the mob in pursuing members of Congress trying to escape, and other loss of life. No political machination could be as traumatic as that, and certainly not as costly as human life. Like last year, the removal aspect of impeachment appears to be futile and not realistic, this time not just because of votes but because of the calendar. The argument last year during the impeachment was the election should be the judge, with impeachment doomed to fail. I argued that myself more than once. That argument does not seem to carry over to doing nothing now when no such judgement of the people is forthcoming.
The congress and its leaders have approached this impeachment with the half-assed posing and politicizing that is their primary function these days: more for the cameras and fundraisers than for the cause and the legislating. This impeachment process is vastly imperfect, and under normal circumstances would be called unfair and out of order. The President is not going to be removed by the senate barring a miracle, or God forbid a further tragedy. The 25th Amendment is not happening, and would probably not actually remove the president anyway.
Nevertheless evidence demands a verdict, and of all my failings as a person the love and duty to my country and all its people is something I will never stop striving to maintain, and I try my best to keep free of hypocrisy and unworthy gains. I’ve sworn an oath twice that I “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” The next part of that oath is obeying the orders of the President of the United States. The context is those being lawful orders to be obeyed. The President has made it clear lawful is as absent from of his own character as his leadership was during the January 6th crisis.
Were I a member of the House of Representatives sitting for this Article of Impeachment, however imperfect both in form and circumstance, I would have no choice but to vote “Yea.”
And I’m sick about it, not for Trump, not for politics, not for myself or whatever opinions others might have about it, but that we allowed ourselves to get in this mess in the first place.
May God help us help ourselves to better days as a more perfect Union.