March 9, 2021

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Convict Donald Trump and banish the 45th president from American democracy

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Senators swear in for the impeachment trial on Jan. 26, 2021.

The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that the Senate should vote to banish Donald Trump from American democracy.

That is, after all, what is at stake.

While the events unfolding on Capitol Hill look and sound so much like a criminal trial, with a prosecution and defense lawyers and senators vowing as jurors to “do impartial justice,” what’s happening is not about punishing the 45th president.

If Trump is convicted of committing high crimes and misdemeanors for inciting an insurrectional sacking of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — as he should be — the former president won’t face jail. He won’t receive a fine. His life and liberty will in no way suffer.

What the Founding Fathers intended

That was never what the Founding Fathers intended when they crafted an impeachment clause 234 years ago. What mattered was protecting their radical experiment in a constitutional republic from a power-abusing president.

Conviction at an impeachment trial was their vaccine for the new democracy. 

It would immunize the republic — the Constitution, really — against future harm from what James Madison called the “perfidy of the chief Magistrate.”

Army National Guard members walk past a painting of the Founding Fathers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 11, 2021.

Trump’s perfidy, laid out through graphic video in the Senate chamber, was his ability as president to promote the lie of a stolen election. It was his malignant skill in using that lie to provoke thousands of violent followers into storming Capitol Hill to disrupt Congress’ constitutional duty to count final voting results.

In fact, the vote was momentarily disrupted. The Capitol was overrun for the first time since a British invasion in 1814. Five people died, including a police officer trying to defend the Capitol and the members of Congress inside, and at least 138 officers were injured battling the mob. 

“We have been flanked, and we’ve lost the line!” one officer exclaimed over a police radio as the mob surged

One of the most startling revelations of the trial was that Trump nearly got his vice president killed. 

Mike Pence had refused Trump’s demand that he throw out valid electoral votes while presiding over the congressional count. 

Trump and the Big Lie

After it was clear rioters had breached the Capitol, something Trump could plainly see on television, he tweeted that “Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.” The words were read aloud by rioters, who chanted, “Hang Mike Pence,” as they hunted him through the halls. 

Two minutes later, according to a trial video, the vice president and his family were rushed to safety — with rioters just dozens of steps behind. 

How would the Constitution deal with this kind of incitement of insurrection? The remedy is not about punishing Trump — as hideous as his actions may be —  but about protecting us all from his brand of malign behavior: Trump would never again be allowed to hold public office.

Or to seek it, for that matter. 

Because there’s hazard should Trump even attempt another run for the presidency and fail again claiming fraud. It risks another round of violence by extremist followers.

As a prosecution manager, Rep. Ted Lieu of California, argued Thursday: “I’m not afraid of Donald Trump running again in four years. I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose.”

Trump will almost certainly be acquitted. Conviction requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate and, sadly, too many Republican senators remain frightened of the power Trump retains over millions of GOP voters, who believe his baseless claims that the election was stolen.

But those senators who acquit in the hope that, with time, all of this bad business will pass away and a post-Trump Republican Party will reemerge, must remember one thing. Trump has never abandoned the Big Lie. Despite multiple investigations, audits, recounts, vote certifications and judicial findings that the 2020 presidential election was free and fair, he clings to this lie because of the seductive and corrosive power it gives him over those willing to believe it.

It’s why conviction and banishment from ever holding public office, as the Constitution prescribes, is the only way forward for the Senate. 

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