In Senate Trial, The GOP Faces A Reckoning

If Senate Republicans refuse to convict Trump for inciting an insurrection, they are further solidifying their party's drift into authoritarianism.
President Donald J. Trump honors Senator Mitch McConnell during the federal judicial confirmation milestones event, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald J. Trump honors Senator Mitch McConnell during the federal judicial confirmation milestones event, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

It’s hard to even say this. America experienced an insurrection. It’s hard to even imagine that as part of the American experience. And even here, it’s still too mild a term. We don’t know what will follow. Is it a failed coup to overthrow the government? We don’t know whether this is the opening salvo of future violence.

On national television on January 6, the day Congress met to certify the electoral college votes, we watched former President Trump incite a mob to rampage Congress in an effort to change the outcome of the election. The scenes were beyond disturbing. People died and were badly hurt. This happened in our House, the People’s House.

Calls immediately went out to the executive branch asking — begging — for help. It took two to three hours for help to be approved, largely because of the intervention of Gov. Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland. President Trump was contacted immediately but did quickly move to provide help.

Later films showed this to be even worse than we thought. And further:

  • That death threats are frighteningly common for leaders on both sides of the aisle. A number of these threats come from their colleagues, holders of elective office.
  • National Guard troops remain stationed in our nation’s capital because the threat of violence remains dangerously high.
  • A number of Republican representatives routinely try to bypass the newly installed metal detectors in order to bring guns to the floor of Congress. It’s not clear why they want guns there. Their own rules preclude weaponry.

This list is not all-inclusive. It shouldn’t exist at all. While there have been isolated instances of protest violence at the Capitol, it has not seen such a massive, violent breach since the war of 1812 when the British invaded and set fire to both the Capitol and the White House.

That attack was by an enemy in wartime. This didn’t even happen during the Civil War when Americans were fighting each other. What on earth are we doing at this juncture? Who can believe this could happen at all, let alone at our seat of government, at the Peoples’ House?

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This anarchy mostly comes at the hands of white supremacists who wrongly consider themselves patriots. Because real patriots wouldn’t betray values embedded in the Constitution.

Our Founding Fathers disagreed on many issues, but they all stressed the idea that certain virtues must be the framework if this democratic experiment could endure. Virtue is a term that has long disappeared from public discourse. We must reexamine that concept, for it is indispensable in maintaining American ideals.

The National Constitution Center explains the Preamble:

“The other purposes for adopting the Constitution, recited by the preamble— to ‘establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity’—embody the aspirations that We the People have for our Constitution, and that were expected to flow from the substantive provisions that follow. The stated goal is to create a government that will meet the needs of the people.”

In other words, before the Constitution sets forth legal principles, it reminds us of the entire purpose of all that followed. These are the ideals our country strives for. We don’t always meet them, but we must continually move in that direction. The Preamble serves as a national value statement and the purpose of government. The Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers amplify the concept and need for civic virtue.

Civic virtues include humility, courage, civil discourse. Vices can be greed and ambition when they lead to neglect of the common good. Demagoguery and deception lead to disastrous actions. When civic vice outweighs civic virtue, the American experiment is doomed.

We must reclaim virtue as the basis for national action. But sadly, public vice seems to be winning at present.

We recently watched the entire Senate take an oath to be fair in the upcoming trial of former President Trump. But despite the oath, many have made it clear that they don’t want this to even happen. How can we expect them to listen carefully to the evidence and keep an open mind?

For years, we’ve heard that privately Republicans opposed Mr. Trump’s policies and rhetoric. Problem was, they kept their views private and did not speak out. Why were they even in public office? Power? Money? Egotism?

How can elected leaders blatantly disregard our entire foundational value system?

We hear: they’re afraid of being primaried. They don’t want to alienate donors, and my favorite, they fear a mean tweet. Well, Trump no longer has a Twitter account. How can a person love power so much they’d trample the voice of conscience? What can be worse than both losing your soul and helping destroy our great country?

Magnifying the problem, news media generally accepts the fear of primary elections as a valid concern. I keep waiting to hear them ask: is it acceptable to act against the national good because of that fear? Couldn’t you try to make a really strong case on behalf of your integrity and strengthening national security? Don’t you have the courage required of leaders?

I have yet to hear those questions. My fear: the national good has been effectively severed from Republican politics.

As a nation, we must reclaim our national integrity. Better to elect a person of character than one who simply wants to stay in office at any cost. Better to disagree with a person of integrity than to have a candidate with no goals other than money and power. We must support the real patriots no matter their party. We can never accept demagoguery or give in to mob rule.

Not for the first time, we are at a national crossroads. The choice isn’t even nuanced. We can continue on the road to fascism or veer sharply toward the Constitution and the values that make our country great.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Impeachment / Mitch McConnell / Senate / Senate Trial