The House of Representatives was set to impeach the president of the United States this week for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. With a vote to remove him from office, the matter was to go to the U.S. Senate, where even a small number of his fellow Republicans had concluded that his actions could not go unpunished.
There are perhaps as many ways to look at the rampage as there were participants, but one thing is indisputable: It was a planned attempt for one branch of federal government to take over another. In President Trump’s mind the motive was to stay in power by overturning the results of a free and fair election. But had it succeeded, it would have destroyed a system of government that has stood the test of time through some of this country’s greatest challenges — think of the War of 1812, the Civil War, the 1918 influenza pandemic, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the nuclear arms race. Looming ahead now is Covid-19, income inequality, health care, and climate change. Facing these, an emasculated government led by an incompetent autocrat, surrounded not by America’s finest, but by grifters and zealots, would have been a world-shifting disaster.
The charges against the president were simple, as laid out in the House resolution. Citing the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, it stated that the president “engaged in High Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars “any person who has ‘engaged in insurrection or rebellion against’ the United States” from holding federal office. The raid on the Capitol was just that — insurrection and rebellion.
With advance warning from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that many of the election protestors were planning to commit criminal acts, up to an including kidnapping and murder, the president’s words that day, that the election had been stolen and, to the angry mob, “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore,” made him as complicit in the ravaging of the Capitol and five deaths as any of the criminals who bashed in its doors and wiindows. But, given the president’s responsibility to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he betrayed his oath of office.
His earlier threatening phone conversation with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, pressuring him to “find” enough votes to take the state’s win for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris away and award it to him is also part of the impeachment resolution. By itself, it would have been enough to seek to remove any president from office. For this alone, the House had to vote the way it did to send a message to leaders that trying to cast aside the unambiguous will of American voters would not be tolerated.
Now it seems that the Senate could take up the trial portion of his impeachment sooner rather than later. Since Mr. Trump will be gone from office before that could be concluded, the haste raises the question if important details about the plotters and who else in the White House might have been involved would not get the full airing they deserve. It is in the best interest of the country to slow it down.
In the most important sense possible, Donald J. Trump’s second impeachment was not just about him — it was about saving our very system of government in which the people reign supreme.