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Fri Jan 15, 2021, 08:29 PM

Friday Talking Points -- The House Does Its Duty

I have to apologize in advance, once again, because I feel that the dire and unprecedented nature of the past week must be directly addressed without the distraction of our other regular Friday Talking Points features. Or, to put it another way, here comes another extended rant, folks.

Next week should be better. Next week should be -- for us all, not just for this column -- a very real and long-awaited return to normalcy. I hope so, at any rate. By this time next week, we will have President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris running the government, and Donald Trump will be fading from the scene in a very big way (after we all endure his final swansong: his second impeachment trial in the Senate). We'll all have breathed a gigantic sigh of relief, and then we can start thinking about handing out awards and writing talking points for Democrats to use once again. But not this week. This week, we have to rant. So here goes.

Throughout his entire presidency, Donald Trump has continued to top himself in the category of "most intense week ever." Over and over again, people thought: "Well, that's it -- he'll never sink lower than this," only to have this turn out to be mere wishful thinking, when the following week turns out to be even worse.

So why was anyone surprised when Trump rolled out his "season finale" (and "series finale," one would like to hope) of his made-for-television presidency in the first week of January? We all knew that whatever the end would look like, it would be spectacular (or, perhaps, "spectacularly bad" ). And here we are.

The House of Representatives has only ever impeached a president four times in all our history. And the most disgraceful president (in my lifetime, at least) wasn't even one of them, because Richard Nixon quit before the House could approve the articles of impeachment they had drawn up against him. I should qualify that, because Nixon will now be known as "the most disgraceful president until Trump came along." And as many have been pointing out, Watergate was bad, but at least it had no body count.

Impeachment has only happened four times in all of American history, and three of them have now happened in the last quarter-century. Two of them happened within roughly a year of each other, for the same president. To put it another way, history is going to remember this week forever. Just like the week before it, when the president of the United States egged on a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol while the Electoral College votes were being officially counted in a joint session of Congress to certify that Trump had indeed lost the presidential election.

This week, the House impeached him for this direct assault on democracy, on America, and on the U.S. Constitution. As it was duty-bound to do.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this isn't just a constitutional crisis, it is an existential crisis. Just imagine if things had turned out slightly worse on the sixth -- Mike Pence might have been assassinated. He was only hustled to safety mere minutes before the mob broke into the Senate chamber. And the crowd was chanting: "Hang Pence!" and they had already set up a gallows complete with a noose, right outside the building.

What would have happened if this had taken place? Or what would have happened if Nancy Pelosi had been murdered by the mob? Or any other member of Congress, for that matter?

What would have happened if the mob had taken even low-level congressional staffers hostage? Would we have had a standoff situation, complete with insane demands? What exactly would the police have done, at that point? For that matter, what would Trump have done? What would have happened if the mobsters had decided to light the House chamber on fire? What would have happened if the rioters had found the official Electoral College ballots (only two states had been officially accepted when the riot happened)? There are so many ways this could have gotten much, much worse. Once the building had been invaded, pretty much anything was possible. We are, in fact, extremely lucky that things didn't get any more horrendously bad than they did.

No thanks to Donald Trump, of course. When he could have demanded the mob obey him and leave the building, he didn't. He was silent. After hours of mob rule in the Capitol, he recorded a halfhearted video where he said he "loved" the rioters and anarchists, and that they were "very special." Which did nothing more than encourage them, really.

For all of it -- for pushing the Big Lie that he had won the election in a landslide for two solid months, for refusing to concede, for refusing to allow the transition to go ahead, for filing over 60 frivolous lawsuits, for heaping doubt on what his own administration called the most secure election ever (and then for firing the people who told the truth), for demonizing state elections officials and governors of both parties (which led to death threats from his followers), for continually believing and telling his rabid base that there was indeed some magical (and non-existent) way that he'd be announced the winner, for throwing his own vice president under the bus, for encouraging a mob to gather so they could forcibly change the results in Congress, for addressing that mob, whipping them into a frenzy, and inciting them to insurrection, and for doing absolutely nothing to change it in any way when it happened, while he gleefully watched it on television -- Donald J. Trump had to be impeached.

There really was no choice. The crimes were of such a high and egregious nature that the Constitution absolutely demanded that the House do so. It was, in a word, their sworn duty to do so.

So they did.

And 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump, along with every Democrat, making this the most bipartisan impeachment vote the House has ever taken (only five Democrats crossed the aisle to impeach Bill Clinton).

The arguments the rest of the Republicans (let's call them the "sedition caucus," shall we?) came up with were pathetic beyond belief. They are still out there attempting to make such arguments, in fact, laughable though they are. Which is why Democrats need to forcefully counter them all, in the coming weeks.

Here's a list of how to do so:

There was no option. If Trump hadn't been impeached, it would have set the precedent that any sitting president can do anything they want, up to and including inciting a riot against the legislative branch of the government in his final weeks in office without worrying about any consequences whatsoever. That's not the way the Constitution works. We only have one president at a time, so there is no "two-week Mulligan rule" for the end of their term. Trump was still president and is still president, and he is obviously a clear and present danger to America and to American democracy. Thus, impeachment was imperative, immediate, and absolutely necessary. "No one is above the law, not even the president" is not just a catchphrase, it must have real meaning -- for every single day they sit in the Oval Office.

Because Trump is still a sitting president, impeachment is the only way to hold him accountable right now. Criminal charges can follow, once Joe Biden is sworn in, but that will be up to the Department of Justice. Congress simply could not shirk their duty to hold Trump accountable right now, no matter what legal jeopardy he may face once he's gone. A censure from Congress just is not severe enough for what Trump did. Far from it. A censure is essentially (and legally) meaningless.

The House didn't impeach Trump out of sheer vindictiveness. Far from it. They didn't impeach Trump just to stop Trump in his final week in office, either. They impeached Trump as a clear precedent for any future Trumps who happen to come along. They impeached Trump to send a very clear signal about what it is and is not acceptable for any president to do. Which is just another way of saying "they did their constitutional duty."

Likewise, there needed to be the strongest possible signal to all the yahoos in the mob how entirely unacceptable their actions were. This will be a deterrent for future nutjobs looking to raise a mob and try to violently intimidate an entire branch of our federal government. There's a word for doing this, and that word is "terrorism." Terrorism is using violence or the threat of violence to achieve political means. That is exactly what happened, or was attempted. And impeaching Trump is merely the first step in holding people accountable for this disgusting and criminal extortion attempt. This was not a "protest," it was a seditious attempt at insurrection. By domestic terrorists.

Trump's crimes were so egregious that they cannot be allowed to be swept under the historical rug. No commission or congressional committee hearings later will suffice to enter into the permanent historical record how truly dangerous and reckless what Trump did was. Impeachment is the only way to mark how outraged most of the country still is at what happened at the Capitol, and how our president aided and abetted it all. The historical record must reflect this, and by impeaching him, it is guaranteed that history will never forget.

A continuation of this thought -- impeachment and a trial are absolutely necessary for a very specific historical reason as well. All sitting members of Congress (Republicans especially) need to vote on the record, for the sake of posterity. Did they stand for our constitutional form of government, or did they stand with the mob? Did they vote to allow such terrorism to be excused, or did they vote to condemn it? Remember, this is an existential crisis, so it is time for all of them to either stand on the side of righteousness or forever be branded pro-insurrectionists and terrorist-enablers.

Yes, this was that bad. It wasn't just "Trump being Trump." It wasn't some random tweet that Republicans can conveniently claim not to have read. It was not hyperbole. It was not theoretical in any way. We all saw it. We all saw Trump tell the mob to attack the Capitol. And then we all saw them do so (far too successfully). And let's not mince words -- it was sedition. It was an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. It wasn't a "coup" in the sense of a radical faction taking over a sitting government; it was instead what historians call a "self-coup" -- an attempt to stay in power through the application of violence, rather than an attempt to seize power. Split all the hairs you want, and use whatever term you wish, but it still adds up to an existential and constitutional crisis, instigated by one man in the White House. That is as serious as it gets, and that is why it cannot be allow to pass unpunished.

Finally, the argument that "it won't matter, he'll be gone from office anyway by the time the trial happens" is just not valid at all. Impeachment isn't just for removing an official from power, it is also proactive, because Congress can also use the process to bar holding federal office ever again. Which is exactly what Trump deserves, right now. It would save us all the nightmare scenario of Trump running again in 2024, right from the get-go. Trump is very clearly unfit for the office of the presidency. That should be beyond debate, after what happened. Just because he'll be out of office by the time the Senate gets around to dealing with it doesn't mean that the equally-important penalty of forever banning Trump from office shouldn't take place. Congress can -- and should -- also strip Trump of his presidential pension and all his lifetime benefits. There is no reason on Earth that my (or anyone else's) taxpayer dollars should go into Trump's pocket for the rest of his life (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each and every year). Trump is not worthy of lifetime Secret Service protection, period. He just isn't, after mounting an insurrection. And since when has "it'll all be over soon" been a valid excuse for not doing your sworn duty right now?

The most laughable argument the Republicans are attempting to use right now is that the country is somehow crying out for unity, and that impeachment and a trial would somehow "divide us as a nation," therefore we must move on and begin to heal.

What tripe! What utter hogwash! What moose poop!

Donald Trump has led the Republican Party for the past five years on a mission of absolute hatred. He has demonized everyone and anyone who didn't agree with him. He was the biggest proponent of "cancel culture" imaginable, because anyone who said anything even slightly critical of Trump was immediately banished, excoriated, and thrown under the Trump bus. This even included his own cabinet members -- no one was safe from his wrath. Just ask Jeff Sessions, he'll tell you. Trump was actually pleased that the mob he had incited made Mike Pence its target. Think about that for one moment -- Pence has been the ultimate Trump toady for four long years, has never said a discouraging word against Trump, has rationalized any and all horrendous behavior Trump did, and he still got thrown under the Trump bus. George W. Bush proclaimed himself "the decider" when he was president, but Donald Trump was unquestioningly "the divider." He whipped his followers into a frenzy against Democrats, who he continuously (and without a shred of evidence) predicted would destroy America if given half a chance; against the free press, who Trump called "the enemy of the people" (an Orwellian phrase if ever there was one); and against Republicans who were insufficiently worshipful towards Trump. Everything was black and white to Trump. Anyone who questioned him or worked against him was The Enemy, and he let his followers know this in no uncertain terms. We have just been through a Republican orgy of divisiveness and now they have the absolute chutzpah to sanctimoniously talk about "unity" and "not dividing the country" and "healing"? Puh-leeeeze.

Democrats need to counter this false piety with a direct challenge: "You want unity? You want to end the divisiveness? Well, you can start by publicly announcing that Joe Biden won a free and fair election, and that Donald Trump lost, fair and square. You've got to denounce the Big Lie before unity is even possible, for starters. Then you can do your constitutional duty to convict Trump of the high crimes we all saw him commit, and you can vote to forever ban him from federal office again, because he is so patently unfit for duty. And then you can sit down and work with President Biden and the Democrats in Congress to pass emergency legislation to combat the pandemic which is currently killing 4,000 Americans a day and infecting a quarter-million people per day. Then -- and only then -- the country will become unified and begin to heal. But not before, because you and the leader of your party simply have to atone for the four years of divisiveness you've been revelling in and encouraging for far too long." That should really be the only answer to fake sanctimoniousness, from Democrats.

But I'd like to end on a positive note today. Because ironically, even his historic second impeachment won't be what truly brings Trump to his knees. Taking away his pension and his Secret Service detail will be satisfying, but it won't be what diminishes him the most. Because that's already happened.

You know what has made the past week quieter than the week before it? Trump can't tweet any more. His megaphone has been confiscated, and he's never going to get it back. For most of us, and even for most politicians, this wouldn't be a fatal blow, but for Trump I suspect it will be.

He's lying low right now -- in fact, since the Capitol Insurrection, he's been quieter than he's been at any point in the past four years, when you think about it. It's not just the Twitter ban, Donald Trump has all but disappeared from public view. He hasn't really tried to get his message out any other way, other than a few of those "hostage video" presentations that his lawyers and aides have forced him to do (in the hopes of avoiding criminal responsibility, later on).

But sooner or later (probably just after Biden takes office), Trump is going to attempt to re-emerge. He'll try to influence public opinion once again. But how will he do so? Probably by calling in to Sean Hannity's show, or any of his other favorite Fox News programs. He'll ramble on at great length, and tell us all how he is actually the victim here. You just know this is coming, right?

But how effective is it going to be? Even the highest-rated Fox shows only pull in (on a good day) maybe 5 million viewers (3 million is closer to reality, these days). On Twitter, Trump had almost 89 million followers -- people he could directly reach and talk to at any hour of the day or night. That's a big change, and it's one that not too many people have really thought about yet.

The political news (outside of Fox and the rest of the right-wing media echo chamber) is going to have moved on almost entirely to Joe Biden and his first 100 days in office. My guess is that the difference between a Biden administration and what we have now is going to be the difference between day and night. All of a sudden, medical experts will be unmuzzled. Truth will be told to the American people. Solid federal plans will appear and thousands will leap into action. Fear of petty political retribution from the man-baby-in-chief will disappear. And that is what everyone's going to be talking about, not whatever whiny complaints Trump is making.

But beyond the media is where the real dimming of Trump's power will take place. Think about it -- up until now, what has kept other Republicans in line, bowing down to lick Trump's boots upon demand? Fear. The fear of his followers. The fear of the grip he held over the Republican base voters.

But how was this fear activated? By Trump writing nasty tweets about some hapless Republican who had annoyed him. Not so much from the hard work of primary challenges or campaigning or any of the other normal political tools. Just by mean tweets.

But Trump can no longer tweet.

That could signal a sea-change in the Republican Party, beginning with the impeachment trial in the Senate. Astonishingly, Mitch McConnell seems to be actively encouraging his fellow Republicans to vote to convict Trump. Not openly -- his public statements have been carefully noncommittal -- but the fact that he's even leaking hints that he thinks what Trump did is indeed impeachable speaks volumes (according to journalists who know such things, McConnell's office never leaks). Reportedly, there are already perhaps five Republican senators who will vote to convict Trump. Add in McConnell and you get six. This means that if every Democrat votes against Trump in the Senate trial, Mitch will only have to bring 11 other Republican senators with him as he crosses the aisle. And Mitch's power in this regard is well within motivating 11 GOP senators.

Especially when they all timidly peer our of the holes they've been hiding in and truly realize that the "mean Trump tweet" days are gone forever. Trump calling in to a Fox show every few days just is not going to have the same impact as a tweetstorm of demonization from Trump to his 89 million followers. Barring Trump from Twitter may turn him into the ultimate paper tiger, in other words.

That's pretty optimistic, but you'll have to forgive me for such positive thinking. Because as I write this, there is less than a week before a sane adult human being will be sworn in as president, and our long national Trumpian nightmare finally comes to an ignoble end. And that's reason enough for a little positivity, I think.

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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