March 2, 2021

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A Vote to Acquit Trump Is a Vote for a Lie

6 min read

The second impeachment trial of

Donald Trump

has been a rout for the pro-impeachment side. They made the case through time-stamped videos and close argumentation, and their timeline linked in an undeniable way the statements of the president on 1/6 and the actions of the rioters who stormed the Capitol. Democratic floor managers were at their best when they were direct, unadorned, and dealt crisply with information and data, as they did most of the time. They were less effective when they employed emotional tones to move the audience. Here is a truth: Facts make people feel. People are so unused to being given them. They’re grateful for the respect shown in an invitation to think.

Congress was riveted; journalists were riveted. Was America? Did it watch? We’ll find out the ratings and in time get a sense of what people felt was worth absorbing. Did the proceedings have the power to break through as anything other than a partisan effort? I don’t know, but I suspect so. In the pandemic people are glued to their screens. Nothing they saw—nothing—would make them admire Mr. Trump more.

As this is written a formal defense of the president’s actions is coming. It is hard to believe his lawyers will argue his innocence of the charge that he incited a crowd to move on Congress and thwart its certification of the 2020 election. Everyone knows he did that. More likely the defense will speak of extenuating circumstances—Democrats now speak violently too, and they didn’t care when cities exploded in violence last summer.

Beyond that I don’t understand the defense being mounted informally in conservative media. This is that everyone knows the storming of the Capitol was being planned before the president’s rally, and the government knew. This exonerates him? If the government Mr. Trump headed knew trouble was coming, it’s evidence of both imminent lawless action and Mr. Trump’s intent—the legal elements of incitement. It makes him more culpable, not less.

I do not see how Republican senators could hear and fairly judge the accumulated evidence and vote to acquit the former president. If we want to keep it from happening again, all involved must pay the stiffest possible price. That would include banning Mr. Trump from future office.

Everyone has a moment that most upset them in the videos of the rioters milling around, unstopped and unresisted, on the floors of both houses. Mine is when the vandals strolled through the abandoned Senate chamber and rifled through the desks of senators. Those are literally, the desks of

Mike Mansfield,

Robert M. La Follette,

Arthur Vandenberg,

John F. Kennedy

and

Barry Goldwater.

They each had, in accordance with tradition, carved or otherwise inscribed their names in them. It looked to me like history itself being violated. It isn’t “loving government” to feel protective of that place; it is loving history and those who’ve distinguished themselves within it.

History will see 1/6 for what it was. Those who acquit are voting for a lie. Conviction would be an act of self-respect and of reverence for the place where fortune has placed them.

Some thoughts attendant to the proceedings.

An aspect of 1/6 that has yet to be satisfyingly addressed is also something I’m certain was one of the most upsetting for the American people.

You don’t know how hollow the tree is until you push against it and it collapses. That’s what people watching on 1/6 saw, a massive public-security and police failure. The Democrats played up the heroism of the Capitol police throughout the trial, and there was heroism, so that’s fine. But the fact is, order just collapsed, and people watched it, live, and it gave a sense of horror.

The Capitol still looks like an armed camp with big ugly fences and troops and the public unwelcome. That citizens could come in with relative ease was one of our glories. Congress should get things in hand and reopen, after the pandemic, as in the past. The long-term imposition of a stiff security regime would be a mistake—cowardly, and abusive of American citizens.

Here is a human question. I don’t understand why I haven’t heard a single story of a member who supported the president in refusing Electoral College certification, who stood with him, and who, hearing what was happening in the first stages of the riot, went into the halls to speak with the rioters. Why did they not do that? They knew there was a rally and expected a march, presumably peaceful. Why didn’t they go into the halls where the clamor was and tell the people, “Friends, I share your beliefs and am arguing for them on the floor, but what you are doing is wrong and unlawful, and you must leave.” Instead they were spirited from the floor by the police and hid in their offices and other rooms. Why didn’t they go out and speak to the crowds, their own people?

Is it that they didn’t actually understand their own people? Or, in barricading themselves in, were they showing they understood them all too well?

Another human question. Watching all the videotape, seeing all the posing of the rioters and holding up phones and live-streaming the event—there was something about it all that made you wonder if something about this age of hypermedia has made people less human, less natural, more like actors who operate at a remove from themselves, even in a passionate moment of insurrection. They acted as if the Senate was a movie set, and they took videos because they’re actors in a story called “Storming the Capitol.”

They dressed up in costumes, as if they’d ordered them up from Wardrobe for the big scene. They live-streamed like they were doing the long tracking shot from “Goodfellas.” There was a feeling of profound unreality about all this.

We are removing ourselves from ourselves. It’s all the image before your eyes and what you feel. There is no emphasis on thought, on reflection, on the meaning of things.

Connected to this is the emotionalism of politics now. I’m not talking about the House managers this week, I’m talking about what is becoming our national style, or at least a public political style. I thought of this last week when Democratic representatives who wanted to share what 1/6 was like for them spoke on the floor. It was full of tears, full of personal information, full of feelings. People wept and got choked up.

I don’t mean it’s insincere—it’s all too sincere. They think their feelings are important and must be voiced. But when institutions seem so frail I’m not sure it helps that leaders are frail. I watched and thought: It’s like nothing bad has ever happened to them before. And I realized it’s not ideal to be governed by people to whom nothing bad has ever happened.

Friends, you are the elected representatives of a great nation. The template is supposed to be

Atticus Finch

standing up to the crowd, not Atticus Finch endlessly sharing his retrospective terror on YouTube.

We can’t go forward with a national style of such timorousness. It won’t do us any good in this rough world, and don’t think they’re not noticing.

Potomac Watch: A politician has to work hard to destroy a legacy and a future in a single day. President Donald J. Trump managed it. Image: John Minchillo/Associated Press

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2021-02-11 18:00:00

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