Those who vote to acquit the former president will now own it all: The incendiary speech that made the nation’s capital a killing ground but also the months of incitement and lying that built up to the violence.
They will own the threats against elected officials who refused to cheat on Trump’s behalf, the attacks on Black voters in big cities, and the savage mendacity of his all-caps tweets. Voting to acquit will mean joining in Trump’s rejection of the democratic obligation to accept the outcome of a free election and in his declarations even before the voting began that this was a “rigged” and “stolen” contest.
And it fell to Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) to make clear to Republican senators that if they vote with Trump, they will be endorsing a would-be tyrant who declared that a Republican elected official who refused to “find” Trump votes that didn’t exist was “an enemy of the people.” The GOP’s loyal anti-communists might remember that this term — directed by Trump against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger — was a favorite of Joseph Stalin’s.
After Tuesday’s powerful and wrenchingly personal presentation by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) and an extraordinary 13-minute film that was by turns heartbreaking and enraging, the prosecution devoted itself on Wednesday to making it impossible for Trump’s appeasers to offer plausible, narrow rationalizations for a not-guilty verdict.
The key was to show that the obscene and anti-American violence on Jan. 6 was instigated by more than a single disgusting rant. “This was months of cultivating a base of people who were violent,” said Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands).
“This clearly was not just one speech,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.). “It didn’t just happen. It was part of a months-long effort with a specific instruction: Show up on January 6.”
Importantly, the managers showed how Trump’s criminality involved not just whipping up the shameful, quasi-fascist violence (although that alone would justify conviction) but also his attacks on the entire democratic process, an argument carried by Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif). “He had absolutely no support for his claims,” Swalwell said. “But that wasn’t the point. He wanted to make his base angrier and angrier. And to make them angry, he was willing to say anything.”
Added Castro: “His words became their actions.”
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) offered one of the day’s most important observations: The riot was Trump’s last resort after the failure of his threats, lawsuits, lies and tweets to reverse the electoral outcome. “President Donald J. Trump,” he said, “ran out of nonviolent options to maintain power.”
And lest anyone imagine that the day’s violence was an accident, Plaskett pointed to the planning and coordination on pro-Trump, far-right websites that included discussions of D.C.’s gun laws and which police and military forces might be arrayed against the mob.
The managers turned again to video late in the afternoon to bring home the frightening horror of the mob’s violence. Plaskett emphasized their targeting of Capitol Police officers and Vice President Mike Pence, which ought to give some Republicans second thoughts about acquittal. I don’t want to hear the words “law and order” from Trumpists ever again.
An essential requirement for political progress is an accurate understanding of what led a country to the state it’s in. Political forces hostile to democracy, freedom and equality thrive when key events of the past are mythologized, distorted or forgotten.
The “stab in the back” myth that falsely blamed the political left for Germany’s loss in World War I paved the way for Hitler. In our history, another outright lie — that the Civil War was about “states’ rights” and not slavery — strengthened the forces of white supremacy for generations.
This is why we will owe a debt to the House impeachment managers for many years to come. They have created an indisputable record. They catalogued lie after lie about the election’s outcome. They laid out Trump’s long history of promoting political violence, including his praise, shortly before the attack on the Capitol, for Rudolph W. Giuliani, right after his lawyer had called for “trial by combat.”
The punditry says that fewer than 10 Republican Senators are likely to vote for Trump’s conviction. This will be an outrage, a sign that a once great party has surrendered to craven opportunism or, worse, brutal authoritarianism. But thanks to the work of the impeachment managers, the country will know how spineless the party has become.