House Democrats were right to impeach Donald Trump even though no one thought for an instant that two-thirds of the United States Senate would vote to convict him.
A crucial function of law is to express the community’s disapproval of prohibited conduct. It is the way society sends a message about what is accepted and what is outlawed. Likewise, the House needed to send a message — to American society and to the future — that Trump’s behavior as president was truly unacceptable.
It is not hyperbole to say that Trump’s conduct was an unprecedented threat to American democracy. The core of a democracy is the peaceful transition of power based on elections. Since President John Adams lost his bid for reelection in 1800, every defeated incumbent accepted the results of the election and left office without protest. But not Donald Trump.
Even before the Nov. 3 election, Trump refused to say that he would accept the results of the election. After it was clear he lost, he repeatedly claimed he had been cheated by massive voter fraud even though there was not a shred of evidence to support this. He and his supporters filed 61 lawsuits and lost 60 of them, with the sole victory being about observers being able to stand closer to observe counting. Judge after judge, Democrats and Republicans alike, emphasized that there was no evidence of fraud.
Yet Trump persisted in trying to undermine the results by attempting to get state legislatures to disregard the vote in their states and election officials to change the outcome. He told Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on a phone call to “find” 11,000 votes and make Trump the winner in Georgia.
Failing at those efforts to undermine the election, Trump tried to persuade members of Congress to vote against certifying the election for Joe Biden, notwithstanding the vote of the Electoral College. Trump’s last-ditch effort was to try and convince Vice President Mike Pence to effectively declare Trump the winner. Pence had no such authority and followed the law in certifying Biden as the next president.OPINION
We all should pause and be thankful for and admire the courage of the state legislators, election officials, members of Congress and Mike Pence who stood up to the pressure from the President of the United States. But it was essential that the House condemn Trump’s actions as an abuse of power by the president, which is exactly what the Constitution means when it says that there can be impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
But Trump’s perfidy did not stop there. On Jan. 6, he incited violence in a way that no president ever has before. Trump encouraged people to come to Washington for the rally, tweeting, “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!
At the rally, Rudy Giuliani repeated unfounded conspiracy theories that voting machines used in the election were “crooked” and he urged “trial by combat.” Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., declared, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” Trump’s words to the crowd must be looked at in this context.
Over and over in his speech on Jan. 6, Trump told the crowd they must “fight.” He told the audience that his “election victory [was] stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats” and said “we will never concede.” He described in detail his claims of election fraud.
“We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about,” Trump said. “We will stop the steal. And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump repeatedly told an armed, angry crowd that had been inflamed over two months to go to the U.S. Capitol and fight.
This is incitement, which is not protected speech under the First Amendment. This behavior needed to be condemned to send a message to our society that this is not acceptable and a message for the future that Trump acted in a way that violated not just norms of behavior, but the law.
In its article of impeachment, the House expressed this forcefully: “In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
Fifty-seven Senators, including seven Republicans, voted to convict. That is a very powerful message. The other 43 should be ashamed of themselves for putting politics above their oath and the Constitution.
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