The second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump begins Tuesday in the U.S. Senate chamber, briefly occupied in the January 6th insurrection that sought to block formal confirmation of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ Electoral College win.
Senator Patrick Leahy, D‑Vermont, President Pro Tempore, will be in the Senate president’s chair where then-Vice President Mike Pence was sitting as the Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. The chair was briefly occupied by the Q‑Anon “shaman,” horn wearing Jacob Chansley.
On a roll call list of senators’ votes, the “Q Shaman” had left a message:
It’s only a matter of time/Justice is coming.
Trump had wanted his Vice President to refuse acceptance of electoral votes from several states carried by Biden. “And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us,” he told a rally earlier on 1/06/2021. As the mob then marched on the Capitol, Trump was tweeting “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country… USA demands the truth!”
The tweet is potential evidence in Trump’s trial, given that insurrectionists chanted “Hang Pence” as they occupied Capitol hallways. An enduring image of the day is of a noose in the foreground with the great dome as backdrop.
“A lot of us believe that if ever there was a reason for our Founding Fathers to have the Articles of Impeachment in the Constitution, this was it,” Senator Joe Machin III, D‑West Virginia, remarked the other day.
If a crime was committed, the trial is being conducted at the crime scene, before witnesses to the crime, how do you mount a defense?
We’ll witness the first smoke screen on Tuesday, when Trump lawyers mount a so-called “constitutional defense.” The argument: You can’t try the orange-haired one because he is no longer in office.
“The Constitution does not give Congress the power to impeach a private citizen: This charge is directed at an individual who no longer holds public office,” the words of Manchin’s seatmate from the Mountaineer State, Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito.
Nonsense, say constitutional experts, including nabobs from the Federalist Society. The purpose of the impeachment trial, if senators agree to convict, is to prevent Trump ever again from seeking public office.
But the defense allows Republican senators to ignore the evidence, likely in the form of picture after picture, showing stuff like a Confederate flag carried through Statuary Hall and such words as those of Louie Gohmert, R‑Texas: “You gotta go to the streets and be as violent as Antifa and BLM [Black Lives Matter].”
Equivalence is the next smoke screen, broadly deployed by the right and right-wing media. Try to equate the 1/06/2021 coup attempt with excesses of the left. The backdrops of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox are frequently filled with pictures of glowering, menacing, disheveled young black men. They’ve lately been replaced by shots of Rep. Maxine Waters, D‑California, and her advice to “get in the face” of Trump administration nabobs encountered in restaurants or airports.
Sure, Stephen Miller was given a bad time at one restaurant, while Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao chose to exit another.
Nobody was hurt or killed, however, nor were the restaurant critics clad in body armor or packing AR-15 assault rifles.
Conspiracy theories, conjured out of thin air, are also being deployed.
Senator Ron Johnson, R‑Wisconsin on Sunday tried to blame the U.S. Capitol attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Is it another diversionary operation?” he asked. “Is this means to deflect away from potentially what the Speaker knew and when she knew it? I don’t know but I am suspicious.”
Of course, Republicans are claiming the impeachment trial will deepen Americans’ divisions. They were, of course, almost entirely silent over the past four years as Trump opened wounds in the body politic and then poured in the salt. Impeachment will “further divide this country,” warns Senator Josh Hawley, R‑Missouri, who gave a clenched fist to the mob as it stormed the U.S. Capitol.
America’s wrong wing seems intent on creating its own reality, or “alternative facts”, to quote Kellyanne Conway. Words of Shakespeare come to find: “They whose guilt within their bosom lies, imagine every eye beholds their blame.”
The bosom of Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is worthy of a close look. After all, wasn’t it McConnell who said in a floor speech: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”
McConnell never acts on principle, so the speech stirred instant speculation.
The business wing of the Republican Party had used Trump to achieve a gargantuan tax cut favoring the rich, and then put two hundred and forty-eight mostly white, mostly young judges on the federal bench.
Now, in disgrace, was McConnell signaling that Trump could be jettisoned?
Unfortunately, there is nothing like a primary challenge to focus the mind.
Donald Trump, Jr., is already talking about traveling to Wyoming next year to “primary” Representative Liz Cheney, a steely conservative who was one of ten House Republicans voting to impeach Donald Trump.
He can keep coming west, for State Representative Brad Klippert, R‑Kennewick is challenging Representative Dan Newhouse, R‑Washington. (Newhouse cannot be primaried, owing to Washington’s “Top Two” election system.)
On Monday, Steve Kornacki of MSNBC posted new poll figures on the Big Board, showing that just nine percent of Republican voters favor a second impeachment of Trump, with eighty-seven percent opposed.
Marjorie Taylor Green, QAnon-Georgia, for once spoke the truth last Thursday when she said: “The party is his (Trump’s). It doesn’t belong to anybody else.”
Trump has transformed the base of the Republican Party. It is no longer the political preserve of business and educated suburbanites. Its base now is white voters without college degrees, the evangelical right and rural voters.
It has become a hotbed of white supremacists, a vehicle for folks resenting a more diversified, more inclusive country. They are angry.
Can Trump keep them angry, despite having been banished from Twitter and deplatformed from a host of other services where he once went unchecked?
Republicans in Congress fear an affirmative answer. Hence, they are willing to deny an impeachable offense with they witnessed, thinking up excuses as they go. Stature-speaking, they could hide in a field of stubble.
A few will break ranks and support impeachment, including the very concerned Senator Susan Collins, R‑Maine.
But we will see nothing like the 1950s Republican revolt against the thuggery of Joseph McCarthy. The first to rise up in protest against McCarthyism in the Senate was Senator Margaret Chase Smith, R‑Maine.
She was followed by Senator Ralph Flanders, R‑Vermont. The Senate committee which led to McCarthy’s censure was chaired by Senator Arthur Watkins, R‑Utah.
Twenty-three Republicans voted to condemn “Tail Gunner Joe”. Just five were with the Democrats last week on a preliminary impeachment motion.
There is not much we can do about the Senate’s vote beyond urging Republican senators to put country ahead of party, which they are very resistant to doing.
What we can do, however, is watch the presentation of evidence and crystallize in our minds memories of a right-wing coup that sought to overturn an American election, and recommit to defending government by the people.
This republic, it bears repeating, is ours to keep… if we can keep it.