When it comes to presidential disgraces, Donald J Trump is in a league of his own. Trump is now a one-term president, as well as the first in history to be impeached twice. He’s also the first, and hopefully the last, president to incite a deadly insurrection against American democracy.
As she stood in the chamber where her fellow lawmakers fearfully huddled for cover seven days ago, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) began today's impeachment debate by declaring that Trump is “a clear and present danger to this nation”. The scene in the Capitol building appeared to corroborate her message, as photos of the National Guard in its hallways flooded social media.
Today’s House impeachment vote marked a reckoning for the president and the Republican Party. This was an opportunity to finally serve the accountability and justice Trump has thus far avoided. It was a final opportunity for members of the Republican Party to atone for their failure to impeach him the first time, their role in emboldening Trump, and the radicalization of their base. It was an opportunity few seized, but enough to be noteworthy, given Trump’s previous hold on the party.
The vote was 232-197. Trump’s first impeachment had zero House Republicans vote in favor. His second had 10 Republicans backing the effort. This feels like an important step toward national healing – but there was little healing to be found on the House floor.
Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH), a well-known conspiracy theorist auctioneer, continued to spread lies about voter fraud during the election. Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) did the same; he and other Trump loyalists also falsely blamed Democrats for the anger that led to the insurrection. There was a lot of deflecting and false equivalency, but few defended Trump’s actual conduct. In fact, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) went as far as to concede that Trump does bear some responsibility for the attack on the Capitol, but said he prefers censure instead of impeachment. In spite of his pleas, their caucus splintered. This bipartisan impeachment vote wasn't won during the debate on the House floor. It was won over the course of the past week.
While many were calling for immediate action after the January 6 insurrection, Speaker Pelosi’s decision to delay impeachment garnered the effort momentum and some Republican support. A flood of corporations began halting donations to Republicans who voted to overturn president-elect Biden’s victory as further details about the insurrection surfaced. This culminated last night with some stunning news, which gave us insight into what might happen next.
A report from The New York Times, which was corroborated by multiple news organizations, revealed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is privately pleased with the impeachment efforts and sees it as an opportunity to purge Trump from the Republican Party. Moments after this news came an announcement of support for impeachment from Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three in House Republican leadership. Others soon followed.
Whether or not this will amount to Trump's conviction is yet to be seen. McConnell declined to convene an emergency session, so unless that changes, the soonest a trial could commence is on January 19. In order to convict President Trump in the Senate, Democrats will need at least 17 Senate Republicans to vote with them. They could then move to vote to block him from ever holding office again with a simple majority vote. Reports indicate that there are as many as 20 Senate Republicans open to convicting Trump. But this all depends on McConnell's political calculations.
Convicting Trump would not only be the best move for democracy, it makes the most political sense for the Republican Party long-term. This is the only opportunity to ensure Trump doesn’t hover over the party for the foreseeable future. It could ease the anxieties of donors who have just fled the party as well. It’s a moment where McConnell’s self-interest finally aligns with the best interests of American democracy.
If McConnell and other Senate Republicans do the right thing, it will be for the wrong reasons, but it will be the right thing nonetheless. No, it won't erase their years of democracy-eroding actions and enabling of President Trump. Nor will it change the fact that their regressive policy stances are bad for the country. But it will help to begin a necessary exorcism of Trumpism from the American psyche.
After the Civil War, America had its first Reconstruction. During the civil rights era of the 20th century, America had its Second Reconstruction. We should think of this era as the beginning of America's Third Reconstruction. We are fresh off a racist attack on the Union, but the threat of right-wing violence is far from abated. There are systemic racism challenges to address, and a sizable percentage of Americans radicalized by lies that led them to commit undemocratic actions. Will this delusional constituency and their leaders be held accountable, or will they be appeased in the manner they were after the Civil War? Will they continue to be fed lies by political leaders in the manner of the Southern Strategy that followed the 1960s?
What we do next will determine if this era will be remembered as the final resurgence of the ideological descendants of the Confederacy or a warning of things to come. We can't let Trump break American democracy. The Senate should convict and ensure this authoritarian never sees political power again.
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