Senate Republicans will cast the votes that determine whether Trump’s assault on the Constitution — his refusal to accept the November election outcome and his campaign to undermine the peaceful transfer of power, culminating in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — is deemed sufficient for conviction. Pity the descendants of the GOP senators who find the weasel words to exonerate Trump; they will have to live with a legacy of cowardice.
The true guardian of our post-Trump recovery will be his successor, President Biden. He should maintain his wise public silence about the trial and avoid contaminating his presidency by entering Trump’s carnival of hatred. Biden has been brilliant in treating Trump as a departed soul, “erratic” in his ability to handle classified secrets, unwelcome at the inauguration, unworthy of rebuttal.
But Biden, nimble in distancing himself thus far from Trump’s specter, needs to think about the trial’s endgame. If the Senate fails to gather the two-thirds majority for conviction, as sadly seems nearly inevitable, the public will look to Biden for guidance about what comes next.
Silence won’t be enough then. The aftermath of impeachment will shape the future — providing either a bridge toward reconciliation or a wider chasm and, perhaps, a renewed underground insurrection from pro-Trump forces. Any bridge toward unity should be built on a foundation of accountability — perhaps a Senate ruling that under the 14th Amendment, Trump is no longer able to hold office, even if he’s acquitted on the impeachment charge.
But when the trial ends, Biden should stay on his course of trying to unify and govern the country. More than any person I’ve seen public life, Biden seems to understand how to get over the pain that comes from shattering experiences. That will be part of his job, post-impeachment.
Biden must find a way to address Trump’s supporters, the 74 million who voted for Trump and a smaller but still large number who agree with his false claim the election was stolen. Biden needs to speak to them, firmly but respectfully, after the trial: It’s over; we’re one country again; we’re listening to you; but if you use violence, you’ll face the full force of the law.
Biden must have an honest dialogue, too, with partisans of the left who want to keep fighting the civil war that Trump was trying to launch. Anger can become an addiction, even when it’s righteous. Trump’s defense lawyers may do Biden a favor by highlighting video footage of left-wing violence at federal buildings in Portland, Ore., and elsewhere during last summer’s racial justice protests.
Such arguments, though they draw a false moral equivalence, give Biden and his lawyers a chance to reinforce a fundamental point: Violence to support any political cause is wrong, whatever the ideology it espouses. Perhaps they can make this simple rubric the backbone of a new federal statute against domestic terrorism.
Biden’s instinct for the center is being tested on the covid-19 relief package, too. Here, again, he’s smart to resist hyperpartisan arguments from his own party. It’s not just Republicans who worry that $1.9 trillion in new stimulus, on top of the $900 billion passed in December, may be over-priming the pump of a recovering economy. It’s not just Republicans who are worried about the debt.
Biden wants a quick stimulus package by March, and he has the ammunition to force one through by majority vote using reconciliation, if he needs to. But process matters. Biden should do everything he can to avert Republican claims that the eventual measure was shoved down their throats. The GOP may not vote for it, but Republican lawmakers shouldn’t be able to say they were ignored.
As Biden plans for governing after the impeachment trial, he should play a long game. The Trump insurgency failed; the dirigible moored at Mar-a-Lago is deflating. Biden won.
One of history’s great lessons is to be generous in victory — not toward the hardcore conspirators but toward the people who were manipulated, incited and sometimes even inspired by the voices of sedition. Half the country can’t be the enemy.