The former president’s defense team attempted to gaslight the Senate by insisting that Mr. Trump is a longtime peacemaker. They accused Democrats of having wanted to impeach Mr. Trump for years, which says nothing about whether he deserves it in this circumstance. They showed endless videos of Democrats talking about “fighting” for political causes, making it seem as though they were as guilty as Mr. Trump of encouraging and condoning extremism. They played tape of Democrats praising Black Lives Matter protesters and making it seem as though they were praising rioters.
The centerpiece of the former president’s defense was the notion that Democrats are violating Mr. Trump’s right to free speech by punishing him for his words on Jan. 6. They warned that if politicians were suddenly punished for their words, none would be safe from partisan retribution.
But the First Amendment is not at issue here. Mr. Trump is not some private citizen being punished for a few words he uttered in a bar; he took an oath to protect and defend the constitutional order, and then betrayed that oath. The proposed punishment is not criminal sanction, in which case freedom of speech would be a relevant consideration, but a formal declaration that a person who has proved untrustworthy with power must not be allowed to wield it again. As lead House manager Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) argued previously, if a town fire chief encouraged arsonists to light a blaze, then hardly lifted a finger to put it out, the town’s leaders would dismiss that fire chief and bar that person from ever again serving in the role.
Drawing a false equivalence between Mr. Trump’s actions and those of other politicians is a classic Trumpian ploy to deny his uniquely toxic character. Mr. Trump alone among U.S. politicians — alone among U.S. presidents — refused, based on nothing, to accept the results of a free and fair presidential election. Mr. Trump, and no one else, propounded a lie about a fraudulent vote, pressured state officials to rig the election and pressured his supporters in Congress to overturn the results. Uniquely, Mr. Trump excused, glorified and promoted violence. Uniquely, he summoned a mob to Washington to get wild and march on the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers had no explanation and no defense, because there is none. Nor could they explain or defend how Mr. Trump watched and even egged on the mob as it ransacked the Capitol and threatened the vice president and members of Congress. Republican senators hoping for even a fig leaf to cover the cowardice of a vote to acquit had to have been disappointed. They were given no plausible excuse for failing to hold a dangerous man to account.