Where was that spirit when election results were being counted?
The Republican Party has devised its response to the push to impeach the president over his role in the attack on the Capitol last week, and it is so cynical as to shock the conscience.
“Now the Democrats are going to try to remove the president from office just seven days before he is set to leave anyway,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who voted with 146 other Republicans in Congress not to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. “I do not see how this unifies the country.”
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, also said that impeaching the president “will only divide our country more.”
“As leaders, we must call on our better angels and refocus our efforts on working directly for the American people,” McCarthy said in a statement given two days after he also voted not to accept the results of a free and fair election in which his favored candidate lost.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas helped lead the Senate attempt to object to Joe Biden’s victory. “My view is Congress should fulfill our responsibility under the Constitution to consider serious claims of voter fraud,” he said last Monday. Now, he too wants unity. “The attack at the Capitol was a despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system,” he said in the aftermath of the violence, as calls to impeach the president grew louder and louder. “We must come together and put this anger and division behind us.”
I’m reminded, here, of one particular passage from Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 address at Cooper Union in Manhattan, in which he criticized the political brinkmanship of Southern elites who blamed their Northern opponents for their own threats to break the union over slavery.
But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”
There are a handful of Senate Republicans, like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who are open to impeachment. But much of the Republican response is exactly this kind of threat: If you hold President Trump accountable for his actions, then we won’t help you unify the country.
Or, as another Republican, Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, said on Twitter,
Those calling for impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment in response to President Trump’s rhetoric this week are themselves engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence.
These cries of divisiveness aren’t just the crocodile tears of bad-faith actors. They serve a purpose, which is to pre-emptively blame Democrats for the Republican partisan rancor that will follow after Joe Biden is inaugurated next week. It is another way of saying that they, meaning Democrats, shot first, so we, meaning Republicans, are absolved of any responsibility for our actions. If Democrats want some semblance of normalcy — if they want to be able to govern — then the price for Republicans is impunity for Trump.
House Democrats have already introduced their resolution to impeach the president, formally charging President Trump with “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the attack on the Capitol. There is still a ways to go in this process, but it is a stronger start than I expected. But there may still be some hesitation about taking the most aggressive stance, as evidenced by Majority Whip James Clyburn’s proposal to hold off on a trial until after the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
This would be a mistake.
There is no way past this crisis — and yes, we are living through a crisis — except through it. The best way to push forward is as aggressively as possible. Anything less sends the signal that this moment isn’t as urgent as it actually is. And as we move closer to consequences for those responsible, we should continue to ignore the cries that accountability is “divisive.” Not because they’re false, but because they’re true.
Accountability is divisive. That’s the point. If there is a faction of the Republican Party that sees democracy itself as a threat to its power and influence, then it has to be cut off from the body politic. It needs to be divided from the rest of us, lest it threaten the integrity of the American republic more than it already has. Marginalizing that faction — casting Trump and Trumpism into the ash heap of history — will be divisive, but it is the only choice we have.
This does not mean we must cast out the 74 million Americans who voted for the president, but it does mean we must repudiate the lies, cruelty and cult of personality on which Trump built his movement. It means Republicans have to acknowledge the truth — that Joe Biden won in a free and fair election — and apologize to their voters and to the country for helping to stoke the madness that struck at the Capitol.
The alternative is a false unity that leaves the wound of last Wednesday to fester until the infection gets even worse than it already is.
Mr. Trump became a celebrity through television, but Twitter had given him a singular outlet for expressing himself as he is, unfiltered by the norms of the presidency.
.. Over the years of his presidency, as controversies and investigations of his conduct began to grow, television became a less reliable safe space. Broadcast networks, pressured to be more aggressive in their approach to him and his aides, asked tougher questions. With the exception of Fox News, cable networks that had rushed to put him on air throughout 2016 and the early stages of his presidency clamped down, cutting back on broadcasting his live appearances in particular.
And his adventures in the White House briefing room generally did not go well and revealed the limits of his grasp of policy or current events. One Trump adviser was blunt, saying that the president did not like most aspects of his job, and that included being asked questions for which he did not know the answers.
So when Mr. Trump went to the briefing room for weeks in the spring to discuss the coronavirus, advisers said, he liked the visual aspects of his performance but not the reality of having a back and forth that led to him being condemned and ridiculed for his dangerous statements about fighting the virus with bleach and light and his fact-free assertions about everything getting better.
Twitter became a stage he could manage more tightly.
It was telling that throughout his time in office, Mr. Trump chose as his primary Twitter channel his @realdonaldtrump account and not his official @Potus account. He understood the power of building his personal brand and keeping it separate from his official duties as president. Twitter gave him a singular outlet for expressing himself as he is, unfiltered by the norms of the presidency.
He would scroll his own Twitter feed, looking at the replies for new topics to throw out. He studied the Twitter trending lists as signals of where the discourse was headed.
In some way, television became the medium through which he could watch the effects of his tweets.
The television in his alcove dining room off the Oval Office was usually on in the background, catnip for his short attention span. He consumed much of his information through it and watched the coverage of his tweets.
Mr. Trump’s White House aides said he loved tweeting and then watching the chyrons on cable news channels quickly change in response. For a septuagenarian whose closest allies and aides say often exhibits the emotional development of a preteen, and for whom attention has been a narcotic, the instant gratification of his tweets was hard to match.
Advisers insisted that they were still exploring the possibility of another platform where the president could speak his mind without filter.
But for now, Mr. Trump has been forced into a more traditional presidential communications posture, reliant on having to stage events with visual allure in the hopes of attracting television coverage. That is what he intends to do on Tuesday with a trip to the southwestern border to promote what he says is progress in meeting his promise to build a wall there.
And with all the outrage and drama that he has stirred in the closing chapter of his presidency, Mr. Trump may yet take advantage of an opportunity to schedule one last major appearance before leaving office.
Jason Miller, a Trump senior adviser, said that if Mr. Trump did give such an address, it would force television networks to make a difficult choice: whether to follow Twitter in silencing the president or allowing him to speak to the American people.
“I would say to many members of the media: Be careful what you wish for,” Mr. Miller said.
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