E pluribus unity

After two days of consideration, and some moping, I’ve determined that I am disappointed with the final vote by the Senate in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, especially since they were so close to calling witnesses who might have provided evidence that could have won over enough votes to convict him of the charges.

I got up early (for a Saturday) to watch the closing arguments, and even though Mitch McConnell had emailed that he would vote to acquit I was happy to learn that there was a chance that witnesses would be called to testify.  As someone who believes Trump’s illegal and un-American behavior deserves whatever punishment is available, I began dreaming—calling witnesses was going to increase the chances that something would happen that would persuade more senators to convict Trump.  It might be the only way to get Republicans who were hell bent on protecting Trump—or who at least wanted to look like they were protecting Trump, in order to insulate themselves from the anger of Trump nation—into a position in which they could vote their real conscience.  Deep down, where everyone knows that Trump is a menace.  Even Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.

Although disappointed in the verdict, I am not surprised by it.  Because this is not a movie.  In fiction, without a doubt, there would have been a surprise speech from some Republican senator that clearly and persuasively and emotionally laid the blame for inciting the attack on Congress on Trump, not just for his speech on the Ellipse that day but for the months of blatant lies inflaming his supporters into thinking a nefarious force was stealing the election.  Something like this, right up until the “but…”

Of course, there was a nefarious force at work…it was Trump.

I can’t comprehend how or why people believed Trump’s warning that an election that had not yet happened had already been rigged.  Not that Trump doesn’t have a high enough opinion of himself to make the claim that the only way he could lose would be through theft, but I still don’t get how so many Americans would accept this transparently self-serving claim as true—before the first vote was even cast, and with no offer of proof for how it would happen.  After all the opposition to Trump’s policies and his actions that had developed over the years, why was it hard to believe that a lot of people wouldn’t want him to be president any more?  You didn’t have to agree with those people to be honest enough with yourself to see that they were there, and they were going to vote for someone else.

The election came, and he did lose, and he bored right in with the lie.  There was no evidence of widespread fraud.  Court after court after court (after court) rejected literally dozens of legal claims.  Right through the recounts and the canvasses in state after state, right through the certification of electoral votes in all fifty states, the lying persisted.  These men and women who believed themselves patriots—the only real Americans left—convinced themselves that Trump was right, that taking up arms against their own government was the patriotic thing to do.  They were so entrenched in the delusion that they even photo-documented themselves committing the crime, unburdened by any concern for their own legal culpability.  Hundreds of them are now aware of just what a mistake that was.

The case against Trump presented by the House managers left any honest audience little wiggle room in concluding that Trump committed an impeachable offense: encouraging an armed assault against the United States Capitol and its defenders, the members of the legislative branch of government, and his own vice president.  The smoking gun was right there in Trump’s tiny hand: even if you accept the argument that he meant it when told his supporters that day to make a peaceful protest, you have to explain why, for hours after the violence began, he did nothing to try to stop it.  Didn’t get on TV and call on them to stop.  Didn’t Tweet at them, telling them to stop.  Didn’t call in the National Guard, or any other law enforcement to assist the Capitol police.  Did nothing to restore law and order. *

A majority of the U.S. Senate voted that Trump is guilty of the charge, but not the two-thirds of members present that the Constitution requires.  Today the Houston Chronicle editorial board praised those seven Republicans senators who braved the backlash sure to come by voting to convict based on the compelling evidence presented in the trial.  As for the others:

Their colleagues who voted to acquit either averted their eyes from the glaring evidence or cowered behind strained legal arguments. History will judge them, but the American people need not wait. We bore witness to the assault on our nation’s Capitol and the evidence presented in trial.

We will not forget Trump’s crimes or the failure of most in his party to hold him accountable. Senators failed to show the same kind of courage that Republican state officials did as they resisted the former president’s pressure to overturn an election.

They failed to put their duty to safeguard democracy above partisan allegiance. They took no strength from former Vice President Mike Pence, who rebuffed calls to interfere in the Electoral College certification process, or from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who investigated allegations of voter fraud and, finding no evidence, chose to resign rather than perpetuate Trump’s false claims.

They failed to honor the bravery of the officers who risked their lives to prevent further carnage, including Capitol officer Brian D. Sicknick who was killed and the almost 140 officers who were bruised, bloodied and bashed by a mob wielding bats and flag poles.

Perhaps the starkest profile in cowardice belongs to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting to acquit and then delivering a damning speech proving he knew better. McConnell declared Trump “practically and morally” responsible for the Capitol riot but relied on a questionable legal interpretation to claim the Senate lacked the power to hold a former president accountable. Then he tried to pass blame on the House for delays when he himself blocked the Senate from starting the trial while Trump was still in office.

Such excuses, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn’s claim that Democrats were being “unnecessarily vindictive” in pursuing impeachment, aren’t fooling anybody who’s been paying attention.

So, disappointed…but not discouraged.  Not yet.  The verdict of the U.S. Senate does not protect Trump from the criminal justice system, which can still prosecute him for his actions in regard to the attack on the Capitol just as it can for his attempts in Georgia and elsewhere to pressure local officials to commit election fraud.  Not to mention the civil and criminal investigations in New York and elsewhere, which get the feel of being too much to remember, so thanks to George Conway for bothering to write it down.

In the meantime I intend to try to follow the advice offered by E.J. Dionne yesterday: think about how the good that came out of this trial can be the foundation for the future:

…a diverse and able group of prosecutors laid out an indelible record not only of what happened on Jan. 6 and why, but also Trump’s irresponsibility throughout his term of office: his courting of the violent far right; his celebration of violence; his habit of privileging himself and his own interests over everything and everyone else, including his unrequitedly loyal vice president.

This record matters. We often like to pretend that we can move on and forget the past. But our judgments about the past inevitably shape our future. Every political era is, in part, a reaction to the failures — perceived and real — of the previous one. The Hoover-Coolidge Republicans loomed large for two generations of Democrats. Ronald Reagan built a thriving movement by calling out what he successfully cast as the sins of liberalism.

By tying themselves to Trump with their votes, most House and Senate Republicans made themselves complicit in his behavior. And Trump will prove to be even more of an albatross than Hoover, who, after all, had a moral core.

(snip)

It’s a sign of how far and how fast the ex-president has fallen that opponents of impeachment rationalized their votes by saying, as McConnell did, that Trump must still confront the “criminal justice system” and “civil litigation.” You’re in trouble when your would-be friends are saying you should be prosecuted rather than impeached.

All of which strengthens the hand of a president whose central campaign theme was a warning against the threat that Trump posed to democracy itself. A bipartisan majority of 57 senators and 232 House members has now declared that Joe Biden was right.

Here’s some of what Joe Biden had to say, standing in front of the Capitol two weeks after Trump’s mob tried to steal an election and subvert our system of government.

Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now.  A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country.  It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.  Millions of jobs have been lost.  Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.  A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us.  The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.  A cry for survival comes from the planet itself.  A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.  And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words.  It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy:  Unity.

(snip)

I ask every American to join me in this cause.

Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred.  Extremism, lawlessness, violence.  Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.  With unity we can do great things.  Important things.  We can right wrongs.  We can put people to work in good jobs.  We can teach our children in safe schools.  We can overcome this deadly virus.  We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care secure for all.  We can deliver racial justice.  We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

(snip)

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.  The battle is perennial.  Victory is never assured.

Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed.  In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.  And, we can do so now.  History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.

(snip)

And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh.  All of us.  Let us listen to one another.  Hear one another.  See one another.  Show respect to one another.  Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.  Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.  And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this.  America has to be better than this.  And, I believe America is better than this.

(snip)

This is a time of testing.  We face an attack on democracy and on truth.  A raging virus.  Growing inequity.  The sting of systemic racism.  A climate in crisis.  America’s role in the world.  Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.  But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.  Now we must step up.  All of us.

* EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated to remove a referenced Tweet which claimed Trump and his family watched the attack on the Capitol from a party tent on the White House lawn.  That was not correct; the Poynter Tweet below explains the error.  HIPRB regrets the error.

Trumpeting their true colors

On Wednesday morning, still working from home most days because of COVID-19, I saw an email from the boss a few steps above me on the food chain warning us all of some new procedures to be followed if we had to physically go into the office.  I emailed my supervisor to ask if this new “help” from management was really something new for us and he said we’d talk about it in our regular meeting that afternoon; I replied “Meeting?  But I planned to watch Congress count the electoral votes this afternoon.”

I didn’t get to bed until 3:00 the next morning.

The election results have been clear: Joe Biden won, fair and square.  Recounts, and recounts of recounts, in many states, all showed that Biden won enough states to give him 306 electoral votes—the same amount Trump got in 2016, when he characterized it as landslide victory.  More than five dozen court cases challenging vote totals and voting laws in several states all sustained that result.  None of the accusations of fraud led to evidence of enough illegality that would change the result.  Many of the legal challenges were comically inept in their composition.  Republican governors and legislatures and secretaries of state did not bow to the siren song of a plea from the president to “find” the outcome he desired—they followed their laws and certified the legal winner.  The Electoral College certified those results.  Now it was up to Congress to add up the totals.  A formality.

There were stories online about a rally near the White House that morning where the president was reportedly repeating his regular grievances and his lies about the theft of his re-election, and I ignored that as just so much more of the same old same old, the blah blah blah that I and so many others have become so tired of, and so inured to, that I was so looking forward to, so very soon, not having to hear any more.  I was oblivious to the news that Trump supporters had a plan for the day:

The advance publicity for the “March for America” had been robust. Beyond the repeated promotions in tweets by the president and his allies, the upcoming event was cheered on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

But woven through many of the messages to stand up for Mr. Trump — and, if possible, block the congressional certification of the election he claimed he had won — was language that flirted with aggression, even violence.

For example, the term “Storm the Capitol” was mentioned 100,000 times in the 30 days preceding Jan. 6, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. Many of these mentions appeared in viral tweet threads that discussed the possible storming of the Capitol and included details on how to enter the building.

To followers of QAnon, the convoluted collection of conspiracy theories that falsely claims the country is dominated by deep-state bureaucrats and Democrats who worship Satan, the word “storm” had particular resonance. Adherents have often referred to a coming storm, after which Mr. Trump would preside over a new government order.

I’d seen the news that Vice President Pence had announced he would not/could not/had no authority to overrule the states and decide which electoral votes could be counted and which tossed aside.  After four years of his incredible obsequiousness to Trump I was surprised that he was acting like his own man but grateful to see it—I assumed now it would just be a matter of waiting through the speeches challenging the votes in a few states, and then the curtain would fall on the last scene of a dreadful play.

In blissful ignorance of what was to come, I tuned in for the start of the joint session of Congress but instead saw video of hundreds of people at the doors around the Capitol—no wait, it’s thousands, in fun colorful hats and shirts and carrying flags and such.  They looked to me like they were having more or less friendly exchanges with the police and security officers while they demonstrated their insistence that Trump had not lost the election.  Inside, Pence started the roll call of states to tabulate the electoral votes…and outside, the crowd was slowly moving up the steps of the Capitol.  And when some of them seemed to have made it inside, I assumed that police had let them in…there was no sign of any confrontation, and no reporting that there had been any.  But that changed.

A bloodied officer was crushed in a doorway screaming in Wednesday’s siege, which forced lawmakers to go into hiding for hours and halt their voting to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Another officer tumbled over a railing into the crowd below after being body-slammed from behind. Members of the media were cursed, shoved and punched.

A vast number of photos and videos captured the riot, which left five people dead. Many of the images were taken by the rioters themselves, few of whom wore masks that would have lowered not only their chances of contracting the coronavirus, but their chances of being identified. Some took pains to stand out.

My favorite amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees, among other things, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  (Emphasis added.)  When those people forced their way into the building, a peaceful protest turned into a criminal act.  And what I remember thinking as I watched on Wednesday, and knowing as little as I did then about the details, was that the Capitol police—clearly outmanned, and maybe outgunned—were smart to be taking a patient approach.  Rather than open fire, causing more casualties and who knows what kind of potential escalation, they were letting the baby cry itself out.  They even escorted some of the protesters out of the building.  There were no reports of large numbers of people being arrested, or of being injured.  The vote counting concluded.

While the U.S. Capitol was under attack by thousands of people intending to subvert the outcome of our election, some of them meaning to capture and possibly execute representatives of our government, President Sentence Fragment watched from a catered party tent at the White House before moving inside and staying glued to the TV.  He didn’t call out the National Guard, or any law enforcement agencies to assist; until pressed by his advisers he didn’t make any effort to get the protesters to stop, and when he did he told them he loved them; he didn’t make a phone call to find out if his vice president was safe and unharmed; and while the invasion was still going on he continued calling members of Congress trying to convince them to change the outcome of the election.  He is still insisting the election was stolen from him, and said he will not be attending Biden’s inauguration.  Good.

Since the events of Wednesday there are Trump supporters who are calling for him to resign, or to be impeached (again), or for Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.  Inasmuch as he has proved, yet again, that he cannot be trusted to obey the law or even to control his own impulses, I’d support any effort within the law to remove him from office.  The voters have done what they can, and he will be gone soon.  Others argue that the nation needs to heal, and any effort to remove Trump now will damage that effort.  That’s bullshit.

If we do nothing, if we turn away from this shameful event—this terroristic attack on our nation’s capital, nothing less than that—we will be tacitly encouraging it to happen again.  If we do not hold lawbreakers accountable for their actions, they won’t have any reason not to do it again.  We punish our children so they learn to behave, the same reasoning applies to entitled adults.

I don’t want to leave without touching on another important aspect of what we saw Wednesday.  It is fair to ask why it appears that these protesters—these white protesters—were treated so gently by law enforcement.

Can you imagine a scenario where an African-American mob storms the Capitol and the lawn is not littered with bodies and blood? That happens to Black people when they ask for equal justice, much less if they tried to overthrow the government. Yet this mostly white mob had the run of the building. What a shameful and wretched spectacle. What an embarrassment.

It’s another important aspect of the things we learned last week, thanks to Donald Trump.

For four years, Trump has made war on the constitutional order, on the institutions of American democracy, and on anyone who stood in his way. Almost all of the Republicans on Capitol Hill let him do it. They aided and abetted him. They voted to acquit him of impeachment charges. They endorsed him for reëlection and even acceded to his request not to bother with a Republican Party platform. The Party’s ideology, henceforth, would be whatever Trump wanted it to be. When Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, bragged about Trump’s successful “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party, he was, in a toxically untruthful Administration, for once telling the truth.

It’s not all about Trump

…even if he thinks it is.  It’s not.  And I ran across an interesting column in today’s Washington Post which offers just six quotations as evidence that the weird-ass dysfunctionality of our politics, if not our society in general, is seen in more than just the batshit-crazy emanations from the Toddler in Chief.

He’s there on the list, of course, at #1, but not quite in the way I would have expected.  Writer James Hohmann turns to this week’s budget submission document from our “I’m all about business and will shrink the deficit and take care of the budget” president for the quote that shows there are still some adults standing watch in Washington who are trying to send a signal to the brainwashed (folks wearing red ball caps, to protect their very clean brains) about what this administration is doing to our economy:

“Even with high levels of economic growth, excessive deficits continue to threaten the Nation’s progress, and any unforeseen shocks to the economy could make deficits unsustainable,” it says. “If financial obligations continue to grow at the current pace, the Nation’s creditors may demand higher interest rates to compensate, potentially leading to lower private investment and a smaller capital stock, harming both American businesses and workers.”

It’s not that this budget submission is going to become law as is; Congress hardly ever passes the budget that any president proposes.  This one came from the man whose most significant achievement of his first year in office (just in under the wire) was to pass a giant tax cut that is already swelling the debt and the deficit.  I’ll admit that my federal income taxes were down for 2018 as compared to 2017 so I’m benefitting, at least in the short term.  I don’t know that any of us benefits in the long haul in an economy in which, as the White House itself warns, deficits are going to stay above a trillion dollars a year “for the foreseeable future” and that the national debt “will soon surpass a percent of GDP not seen since 1947.”  Hohmann notes, “The White House projects that the government will need to spend $482 billion on interest payments for the debt next year alone.  That’s more than the entire budget for Medicare.”  Good allocation of resources, Donnie.

Second quote, from the noted not-Trump hater Dick Cheney, who was talking tough with VP Pence about the administration’s foreign policy at a conservative function in Georgia last weekend:

“We’re getting into a situation when our friends and allies around the world that we depend upon are going to lack confidence in us. … I worry that the bottom line of that kind of an approach is we have an administration that looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.”

I first thought the next thing to say here was to marvel that this Republican administration is frightening the previous Republican administration when it comes to dealing with our allies, but I decided that was wrong: it’s not fair to Republicans—the mass of good, not-crazy ones—to label Trump a Republican, and it’s no surprise that former diplomats and officials and the defense hierarchy disagree with Trump’s attitude of telling our allies to just shut up and be grateful we deign to be on their side.

Pence, unprepared for tough questions, mostly shrugged off Cheney’s concerns and praised Trump as a transformational leader. Reading the transcript shows what a total loyalist Pence has become to Trump. He staked out several positions that are at odds with the posture he took as a congressman and governor.

Moreover, the conversation between the two men who have held the No. 2 job underscored the deep fissures that remain inside the GOP over Trump’s foreign policy. It’s the same tension that led to Jim Mattis’s resignation in December as defense secretary after Trump abruptly announced the complete withdrawal of troops from Syria. The president eventually relented under pressure from hawks on the Hill. Some troops will stay.

Consider the other quotes: Nancy Pelosi thinks impeaching Trump is “not worth it” because it’s so divisive, Paul Ryan predicts Trump will lose in 202o if the race turns out to be “about Donald Trump and his personality,” Tucker Carlson doesn’t deny and doesn’t “bow to the mob—ever.  No matter what.” when he’s exposed for hateful comments made more than ten years ago (which should not to be confused with the hateful comments he makes on his Fox News Channel show these days with regularity).   They all offer us a chance to think, if we choose to.

Oh, wait, there was one more quote.  It was reported by people who were in attendance at a GOP fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, and was flatly not denied by the president’s press secretary:

“The Democrats hate Jewish people.”

Said Donald Trump.  No further discourse required.

Wait, you don’t suppose it really is all about Trump after all?  Do you?