A divided Senate on Tuesday voted to allow the impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump to go forward, rejecting by a narrow margin the argument that ex-officials cannot be tried after their terms have ended. The position that a president or any other government official could avoid conviction simply by resigning is indefensible, both in terms of historical precedent and common sense. In this country no one is supposed to get a free pass, no matter how powerful, rich, or well-connected they are.
Whatever you might call it, the events of Jan. 6 were an attack on our system of government that gained attention and was motivated by the president’s relentless drumbeat about a “stolen” election. His rhetoric was what got the protesters to gather in the first place. Then, once they gathered, many armed and in quasi-military clothing, the president told them that the time had come to fight. And so they did. Losing presidential candidates can dispute the results. but they cannot encourage violence in an attempt to change the outcome. Restraining such incitements is at the core of a government of free people.
There has been a lot of talk about the concept of unity since the insurrectionists entered the Capitol, some threatening members of Congress and Mr. Trump’s own vice president with death. But unity as the president’s enablers on the right seem to see it, really means they want his transgressions forgotten. Coming together as a nation allows us to disagree on the small things, but to come together despite our differences on the big ones. Upholding and protecting democracy from authoritarian attack is one of those big ones.
The Senate trial unfolding this week is only partly about Mr. Trump’s lies and incitements that led to the awful day in Washington. The more important result is that the current president, Joe Biden, and future presidents must clearly be told that there are lines that cannot be crossed without incurring the most severe consequences.