An Ugly Depiction of History

Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 12, 2021

Now it is all out there, an obvious and indelible stain for the nation and its 45th president — even if 17 Republican senators don’t want vote to convict. As a friend noted, it may be rare but important that the probable losing side is writing the lasting historic record.

Let’s hope, whatever the outcome, that a huge majority of Americans now recognizes that Donald Trump was at the center of unleashing a broad attack on democracy and on his own government, and sitting on his hands as people got killed and injured — all for his own glory. And that he would do it again, as prosecutors told us.

As Trump’s weak impeachment defense starts re-airing arguments about process, free speech, and, incongruously about Black Lives Matter protests, there will be no answer for the detailed calls, campaign and incitement laid out by House prosecutors. The ugly messages of Trump tweets, actions taken to provoke and actions not taken to halt the fatal attack on the Capitol will outlive this trial. Though it may not matter to pro-Trump senators, the prosecutors successfully persuaded that while they were anti-Trump, they weren’t Democratic partisans; the victims in the riot included Republicans as well, particularly Vice President Mike Pence.

Still, as has now become custom, it is troubling that we all don’t see the same horrible fact pattern, beyond the single last speech on Jan. 6, regardless of what to do about it. A check of right-leaning news sites shows serious discounting of the video-heavy presentations; Michigan’s top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, calling the video a “hoax”; Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and others denouncing the presentations as a waste of time.

Creating a Record

Of all things, this impeachment was not a waste of time; it was an attempt to make sense of Trump’s triumphant egotism and abuse of the Oval Office for personal gain — something that may still attract attention from actual criminal prosecutions once this political trial ends in a few days. Even as the trial unfolded, the House was readying legislation for coronavirus aid, another 1.5 million vaccines were delivered on each of the three days, three Cabinet members advanced towards approval, and Joe Biden was talking to Xi Jinping of China about bilateral relations.

By contrast, the impeachment arguments highlighted that governing under Trump halted after the November elections, with all efforts in increasing intensity directed towards overturning results — leading inexorably to the Jan. 6 insurrection attack.

Still, as an example of how out of whack this all was, Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., did not even seem to see the significance of telling reporters that when he got that misplaced phone call from Trump amid the rioting, he had told Trump that he couldn’t talk because Vice President Mike Pence was being hustled away at that moment for his family’s safety from Trump’s mob. Ten minutes later, Trump tweeted trash about Pence not living up to his expectations. That single act confirmed personal obsession over national interest, protecting people or the Constitution.

This, as so many other moments, illustrated that the situation was yet more dangerous that we had understood, and deeply tied to the Trump obsession with overturning election results — and American elections as we know them.

The prosecutors called all this incitement; it is a stand-in word for doing Trump, who had claimed the Law & Order mantle, to do everything for himself to win reelection by legal or illegal hook, crook or revolution over doing nothing for the health, safety or well-being of the rest of us, including the Capitol and Metropolitan police who were injured or killed.

The Wrap-Up

There was yet more video and argument to sew up the last of the prosecution arguments. In truth, their full day Wednesday had made the case, emotionally touching most in the chamber, but likely not changing enough votes for conviction.

They attempted not only to align timelines of the Stop the Steal effort with the actual riot, but to intimidation attempts in the states, coordination with racist militia groups and supremacists and to the failure to intervene once the riot had run amok. In general, they sought a broad view of “incitement” to include the special responsibilities of a president to defend and uphold the Constitution.

In the same fashion that had proved effective in two previous days, they used video and clips to show that rioters themselves saw themselves following instructions from Trump; that there was a long history to Trump indifference or promotion of violence at rallies and at state houses; that Trump never fully condemned the Capitol attack or took responsibility for any role in having provoked a response that went awry; that the attack has invited aggressive enemies to look at how they too can attack the Capitol.

Rep. Jamie Raskin offered a strong argument against the defense’s claim of free speech protection.

And now?

The presentations struck repeatedly at the theme that the attack was foreseeable as a result of Trump statements and actions, sometimes marrying more general statements with the outcome of this particular outbreak of violence.

The managers tried to hang that central question posed by Black police pelted with racist taunts and actual physical weapons — Is this America? — over the proceedings.

Prosecutors made clear that voting in this matter for a Trump who called anyone who opposed Trump an “enemy of the people” was endorsing a authoritarian view floated first by Josef Stalin. They noted that domestic terrorism is rising, that the spread of inflammatory information is growing, that political divisions are more subject to a single inciting match. Prosecutors basically argued that conviction was important not only for Trump accountability but as a warning against future attacks on democracy and our capitals.

Regardless of the outcome of this stilted Senate impeachment trial, we finally will have a cohesive record of treachery to the American political experiment led by a Donald Trump who put himself before his oath. The Wall Street Journal says the prosecution case makes clear Trump will never live this incitement down, regardless of vote; The Washington Post says conviction is necessary. It’s hardly the stuff of “insult and absurdity,” the line that Sen. Lindsey Graham took.

Having the history recorded properly by itself may make America a little greater.




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