On Wednesday, January 13, 2021, the House of Representatives voted 232-193 to impeach Trump, making him the only president ever to be impeached twice. Most Republicans in the House voted against the measure, but ten Republicans voted with the Democrats to impeach, making this the most bipartisan vote on a presidential impeachment in the country’s history. Some other Republicans, even while voting against impeachment, had sharply critical words for the president. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that he would support a censure resolution.
“Impeach,” of course, merely means accuse. There still has to be a Senate trial. In this instance, the Senate trial will begin when Trump is already out of office, the first time this has happened in a presidential impeachment. The big point of that trial is that if a two-thirds majority can be mustered up to convict Trump (which would take 17 Republicans voting with the 50 Democrats), the Senate can then vote by a simple majority to disqualify Trump from holding office again.
It remains to be seen whether 17 Republicans in the Senate can be persuaded to vote to convict Trump. However, Senate Minority Leader (formerly Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell has said that he will make his decision after he hears the evidence, which is more than he was willing to say and do last year, in Trump’s first impeachment. Back then, he said it was “dead on arrival” (McConnell’s own words) and that he was going to “coordinate with the president (also McConnell’s own words). It should be noted that back on Wednesday, January 6, only six Republicans voted against accepting the results of the electoral vote.
And what, exactly, did Trump do? Let’s start with what he had been doing for the past two months, ever since the election. He had been declaring, not even that the results were questionable and should be investigated, but that it was an absolute fact that the results were fraudulent and he was the rightful winner of the election. He thus encouraged his base–a base that we know includes (though is by no means limited to) militant extremists, a subset of whom are hard-core ideological racists, members of groups that make the Ku Klux Klan look like the Rainbow Coalition–to feel that something had been stolen from them and to feel enraged about it. During those two months, he also contacted numerous Republicans in positions of authority or influence in the swing states that he had lost (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia), tried to manipulate them into finding some loophole or technicality with which to change the results and make him the winner, and lobbed attacks on their character when he did not get what he wanted from him.
January 6 was the day that the House and the Senate, in joint session, counted the electoral vote, which is usually a very routine and mundane ceremonial act. It should be noted that none of the states submitted conflicting returns or registered any dispute over the results. Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, would be presiding. Pence had previously made speeches supportive of Trump’s claim that the election was stolen from him, which apparently got Trump’s hopes up that Pence would try to change the outcome (even though he couldn’t). On the eve of the count, he told Pence that he would go down in history as either a patriot or a pussy, and that morning he sent out a tweet that he hoped Pence would do the right thing. Later in the day, he sent out a vicious tweet blasting Pence for not coming through.
Now, about the rally: Trump organized that rally, calling it the “Save America Rally.” He sent out repeated reminders on Twitter, and many tens of thousands showed up. He delivered a 75-minute speech in which he repeatedly said that the election was fraudulent and that his listeners had good reason not to “take it.” He referred again and again to “weak Republicans.”
“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by a bold and radical left Democrats which is what they are doing and stolen by the fake news media. That is what they have done and what they are doing. We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about.”
He then dispatched them to the Capitol. His words suggest that what he wanted them to do was shout: just stand outside the Capitol, in the area where they had the right to stand, and shout, let their feelings be known. If we look at it in the light most favorable to Trump–assuming that that really was all he wanted them to do–we’re still left with the fact that he was showing complete complete contempt for the independence of Congress and for the judgment of individuals–including many Republicans–who had decided that the vote was legitimate and that Biden had won. What is more, if Trump was confident that all they were going to do was shout from outside, then he was completely disregarding the obvious fact that there were militant extremists in the crowd. With that in mind, it should still be clear how Trump’s own words could easily be taken as encouragement to do more than shout.
“We’re going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol– And we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated. Lawfully slated.”
And now, let’s consider what Trump’s first message to the rioters was, when it became clear that there was a riot.
“I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.
“It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.
“I know how you feel, but go home, and go home in peace.”
He had changed his tune by Thursday evening. At that point, he made a video in which he totally condemned the attack on the Capitol and said that the perpetrators would be punished. He also announced that there would be a peaceful transition of power on January 20. He appeared to have been a bit chastened, warned that he was going to be in serious trouble for the events of January 6.
Now, there are reports that more violence is feared, and that security on inauguration day–which even under normal circumstances would be very tight–is going to be considerably tighter, with a huge military presence guarding the area of the Capitol.
It’s very abnormal for the president of the United States to be encouraging insurrection, or even encouraging a crowd to protest with their voices a proceeding on Capitol Hill. What is more, the claims that Trump is making about the election are false by any reasonable standards. There will always be some who would say that I should be “objective” on the subject, maybe suggest that there are two schools of thought as to whether the election was fair and two schools of thought as to whether Trump’s efforts to pressure Republicans into finding a way to declare him the winner are justified. Sorry, I can’t. I would be lying. And there’s enough lying going on already.
Article in Politico about the impeachment vote, January 13, 2021