The impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump has begun, and America once again finds itself grappling with the ugly truth that Republican senators are likely to kneel in fealty to Trump, rather than save our democracy (and their legacy) and vote to convict.
The true strength of the prosecutors’ case rests on one especially important fact: These 100 senators are not just jurors; they were also the victims.
The true strength of the prosecutors’ case, however, rests on one especially important fact: These 100 senators are not just jurors; they were also the victims of the violence that befell the Capitol. They were the targets. They were the victims of personal assault. For as much as some members of the GOP caucus want to dismiss this trial as a constitutional exercise, it isn’t one. They know the fear they felt as they saw Capitol Police draw their guns and as barricades of furniture were erected against the Senate Chamber and their own office doors to keep the raging crowd from attacking them. Republican senators know what they felt when they learned that some of their own colleagues had given encouragement to insurrectionists chanting, “Take the Capitol!”
So far, House prosecutors seem to realize this. The trial kicked off Tuesday with a video montage of the Capitol riot. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the Democrats’ lead impeachment manager, forced senators of both parties to watch as Trump-praising Americans kicked and punched their way through police officers and into the Capitol.
Raskin’s approach is a smart one, because it avoids the obvious partisan traps that caused Republican senators to shy away from conviction during the first impeachment trial. Raskin and his House colleagues need to convince 17 Republican senators that this time it’s personal, not political, and that their vote to convict is a defense of democracy rather than just punishment of Donald Trump.
To underscore this truth, Raskin shared how his 24-year-old daughter, who had joined him at the Capitol that day, feared for her life as she and her husband cowered under a desk. “I told her how sorry I was,” Raskin recalled. “And I promised her it would not be like this again the next time she came back to the Capitol. And you know what she said?” he asked, choking back tears. “She said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol.'”
Moreover, prosecutors should continue to put before these senators the important responsibility they have to confront the truth of what happened. When insurrectionists urinated on the walls of the Capitol, they were desecrating not just the People’s House but also the very meaning of our Constitution and the sacred rights secured by it. The first and only assault on our peaceful transition of power was not merely immoral. It was profane, and every member of the Senate knows it and was touched by it.
No one really believes the Republicans’ parroted talking point, “I will listen carefully to the evidence” — we have heard that one before. Moreover, despite the clarity of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Jan. 19 — “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” — Republican senators will remain unmoved and will not vote to convict.
Their political self-preservation will consume the principles and the facts that should otherwise govern this trial. The facts here are clear, from Trump’s call to “fight much harder” and his repeated assurances that his supporters are “allowed to go by very different rules” to his hot rhetoric and his physical presence at the rally along with members of his family, his administration and his presidential campaign two hours before the assault.
Having lost at the ballot box and in the courts, Trump decided to take the law into his own hands.
Having lost at the ballot box and in the courts, Trump decided to take the law into his own hands and called upon his private army to attack Congress: “Be there, will be wild!” And at the exact moment Vice President Mike Pence was hiding from the mob that had built a gallows to hang him on the lawn of the Capitol, the president incited them further by tweeting about his vice president’s lack of “courage” to reject the electoral votes.
The American people and the entire world watched in horror as Trump’s supporters, waving Confederate flags and armed with semiautomatic rifles, chemicals, Molotov cocktails and zip ties, stormed the hallowed grounds of our democracy, killed and permanently maimed its police officers, broke down its doors, smashed its windows, urinated on its walls and called for the murder of the speaker of the House and for the deaths of all elected officials, Democratic and Republican, who dared to disagree that the free and fair election of Joe Biden had been stolen from their defeated leader, Donald Trump.
Those are but a few of the indisputable facts.
Republican senators already know this trial is how we begin to sanitize and disinfect the literal and figurative wounds inflicted by Donald Trump and some of their fellow senators. They also know this impeachment process is the first of many steps they can take on behalf of the American people not only to rectify the wrong against us but also to help begin the nation’s healing. But will they allow us to heal? Will their loyalties lie with mob rule or with the rule of law? With insurrection or with our constitutional republic? With Trump or with their sworn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”? We and history await their answer.