If You Love America, You Want Donald Trump Convicted. Here's Why.
Far more is at stake now than the fate of a single political party or former president.
After the failed insurrection of January 6, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky—last seen getting extorted via telephone by the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, with the consequence of Trump being impeached but not convicted—said the following about America: “After something like this, I believe it would be very difficult for the world to see the United States as a symbol of democracy.”
Zelensky’s sentiment is understandable, yet nevertheless difficult to stomach coming from the leader of a country plagued this century by dubious elections influenced by hostile foreign powers, dramatic violence in its streets, and politically motivated incarcerations. (Candidly, the United States has likewise been beset by the first two of these of late, and if Trump had had his druthers, there would have been Vladimir Putin/Alexei Navalny–style political persecutions sunup to sundown for four years. Indeed, many Americans forget how many death penalty-eligible crimes Trump accused his political enemies of, and with what frequency he demanded their arrest.) But even if we see the truth in Zelensky’s words, and even if we note that they could have been uttered with equal veracity earlier in Trump’s term, they remain difficult to bear. Americans are not accustomed to having our commitment to democracy looked down upon by leaders of former Soviet republics that are still undergoing the pain of separation from a grotesque totalitarian kleptocracy.
Few can doubt that the United States, under presidents of both parties, has done things of which it has been and remains justly ashamed. And yet America has continued—throughout its many failures of principle, nerve, and domestic and international policy—to be a beacon for oppressed peoples the world over, not because we are perfect but because we are conspicuously forever seeking to perfect ourselves and our Union. Our democracy has blemishes, and it’s occasionally bent to nefarious domestic influences, but it has never been broken before the eyes of the world.
Then January 6 happened.
On that day, the actions of Donald Trump and his minions dragged the United States centuries backward, into our dark pre-Declaration past, one in which political tribes, insensate to the broader consequences of their actions and to the utility of a land area persisting as a nation-state, vied with one another through the brute mechanics of fear, force, favor, and folly. What Americans and people around the world saw on their television screens on January 6 was indistinguishable from the undemocratic mayhem that scores of countries around the world have seen in recent decades. Suddenly one of the world’s hegemonic powers was caught naked and under a bright light—and looked haggard and frail.
The road to recovering America’s standing in the world will be long and difficult. We do not have the leadership role in international diplomacy that we once had. We do not have the moral standing in international relations or transnational negotiations that we once enjoyed. We are not envied and admired in the way we once were by so many. The fact that the January 6 insurrection occurred in the shadow of a Joe Biden victory at least underscores that American voters had just resoundingly repudiated Trump and Trumpism, but whatever Biden himself may have decided about the utility of a second impeachment trial for Trump, there can be little doubt that the work of restoring our democracy will take more than honorable speeches from our POTUS (however well-intended) and a renewed commitment to acting in concert with our partners around the world. It will take convicting Trump for incitement to insurrection, and banishing him from American politics forever—barring him from holding offices of public trust.
Some on both the left and right of American politics say that the main reason not to hold a trial of Donald Trump isn’t some fraudulent constitutional dodge cooked up by Trump, his lawyers, and Congressional Republicans—namely the canard, rejected by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, that the Senate can’t convict former presidents—but rather that an acquittal would signal our acquiescence to insurrection. I don’t know what sort of backwards thinking this country’s intelligentsia has come to that it would embrace the paradox that upholding American rule of law undermines it; that way lies madness. Indeed, the very fact that an acquittal would signal the country’s acquiescence to insurrection is the reason to hold a trial. Nations hold trials as much to hold themselves accountable to their first principles as to hold defendants accountable.
In America, we’ve traditionally taken pride—whether doing so was deserved or wise—for our penchant for doing what we perceive to be hard. We feel the most pride in our democratic experiment when we face our demons head on, and feel regret and shame (at least eventually) in instances in which we’ve delayed accountability for what we’ve wrought to another day or decade. Avoiding this moment of responsibility not just for Trump, but for a democracy in grave need of vindication in the eyes of the world would accomplish nothing but to further assure our friends and enemies that the U.S. is not, in fact, ready to turn the page on the darkness of the last four years.
This is why Republicans’ public plotting to dispose of Trump’s second impeachment trial on an already universally debunked constitutional argument is a further betrayal of this country. It is so transparently a cheap parlor trick to avoid moral and ethical accountability for one of America’s two great political parties quite nearly bringing America to its knees that it can only further disgrace the country in the eyes of the world. Responsible Republicans in Congress, of which we must ruefully say there are few remaining, will understand that this trial is not finally about the transient political fortunes of Donald Trump or even the near-term future of the ailing Republican Party. What is at stake now is no less than the future of the United States of America itself.
The jury in Trump’s upcoming trial is ostensibly the senators of the 117th Congress, but in fact it’s you, me, and every patriotic American. A conviction of Donald Trump for incitement to insurrection would be a vote by all of us to continue moving toward the America we wish to become, away from a dark period in our history of which so many of us are deeply ashamed. By comparison, an acquittal would open the door to a return to that darkness in 2024, in the form of an embossed invitation for Trump to run for president again and to undoubtedly sow insurrection again.
Americans should be calling their members of Congress and demanding a conviction. Americans should be writing letters to the editor of their local newspaper demanding a conviction. They should be on social media demanding a conviction. They should be telling pollsters and journalists that they demand conviction. They should explain to their friends and family and neighbors why a conviction is necessary. They should be focused on this upcoming trial—yes, even in the midst of this killer pandemic, and a harrowing economic downturn—with an intensity of purpose that underscores their belief that the conviction of Trump for incitement to insurrection is a moral necessity.
Those in media today, and it is far too many, whose focus of late has not been on the future of our country but the daily political “horserace” that pays their salaries—and who, in inconsequence, have spent each hour of each day telling us that the verdict in this trial has already been determined—should be ashamed of themselves. And they should be shamed in the eyes of the tens of millions of Americans who understand that convicting Donald Trump of the most grave crime against an Oath of Office that any American president has ever committed is not a game, but a national imperative.
Indeed, the trial that begins this Tuesday should be a national event. Every American should feel compelled to bear witness to it, to have an opinion on it, to be aware of its key figures and its various complexities and subtle contours. If America could be transfixed by the trial of former NFL running back O.J. Simpson in the mid-1990s, it can certainly be transfixed by a trial to determine the future of America in the 2020s.
In an America that cannot convict a former president of an incitement to insurrection he performed in public over the course of weeks and even months, there can be no future for the Republican Party. Nor can there can be a good-faith negotiating partner for the Democratic Party. There can be no pride in being elected to Congress from a gerrymandered “red” district whose voters have been deceived into confusing sedition with patriotism, particularly not when the Congress one has been elected to is doomed to stand for and achieve nothing because it’s just a daily struggle between—to quote Ulysses S. Grant—”patriots” and “traitors.” Republican members of the Senate may see acquittal as the only path forward for themselves and their party, but in this their judgment is as brittle and misguided as a drunk who seeks salvation at the bottom of a bottle. Our country has been made sick and addled and addicted by not just a man but a self-professed “movement” with no commitment to American democracy. It was the immoral murk exuded by this “movement” that subsumed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, and while the man who channeled that murk up toward Capitol Hill may be the lone figure now on trial before the U.S. Senate, the unmistakable purpose of his trial is to beat back the growing darkness that threatens to consume us all: a low-level domestic conflict marked by persistent domestic terrorism, disinformation, and seditious acts.
On Thursday, February 4, every House Democrat and 11 House Republicans chose to take a stand against that encroaching darkness. They voted to carry the torch of our democracy a step further into the future by casting their ballots to remove a racist, Islamophobic, anti-semitic, violence-inciting, insurrectionist conspiracy theorist named Marjorie Taylor Greene from her two House committees. And yet a staggering 199 House Republicans voted for the murk that Greene, like Trump, would seek to channel—indeed, according to a CNN report, Greene’s colleagues gave her, risibly, a standing ovation in a closed-door February 3 caucus meeting.
Now we are hearing from Republican senators who offer reasons to dismiss Trump’s coming second impeachment trial as “unconstitutional”—reasons that no one, least of all they themselves, believe. They’re speaking to the murk in the language of the murk. They must turn aside from their present course for the sake of the United States itself. And if they won’t do so by their own volition, they should do so because the whole of our nation has risen up in unprecedentedly righteous anger to peacefully and lawfully but vocally command them to do so by every means of communication the citizens of a nation have at their disposal. No punditry should dissuade us from radical advocacy for Trump’s conviction, nor any cynical, presumptuous, premature vote-counting or shirt-rending about the realpolitik of DC. This is a time for audacious idealism; nothing else will do. Anything else drowns us in murk, lies, nonsense, disinformation, and the growing, orcish drum beat of insurrection.
None of this has much of anything to do with the long arc of either the Republican or Democratic parties. The year 2021 is just a blip in the vast scope of American history—a fact that members of both parties should acknowledge. America has seen many great political parties rise and fall in its history, and presumably, if America survives for another 250 years, we’ll see the fall of both the Republican and Democratic parties, along with the rise of new ones. The more important question is whether there will be an America for those parties to rise and fall in and into. And that is a question that can only receive its consequential answer from the final U.S. Senate vote in the upcoming second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.