This might be tough to swallow, but we still might not have reached the bottom of the Trump presidency. Now we have to figure out what to do with a man who has encouraged sedition and resists accountability on all levels.
For the first time, thanks to the president and his enablers within his administration and Congress, a group of Americans stormed the U.S. Capitol, wreaking damage wherever they went.
If this was not an attempted constitutional coup, I do not know what is. Even secessionists who warred against the Union and Constitution acknowledged Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. Trump’s army has managed to do more damage to our democracy. Proclaiming his “love” for the marauders whom he called “very special people,” the president poured fuel over the flames he had stoked. Armed with nothing but too-late platitudes, Republicans in Congress were profiles in opportunism and cravenness, and Trump’s face-saving video came too late to prevent five deaths, damage to the Capitol, and the insurrection he urged.
For years, Republicans say how privately they voice misgivings, even to the president — but does anyone really believe that? And if they truly did, what good did it achieve?
Always quick to claim the mantle of “law and order,” Republican lawmakers could not move fast enough to whitewash Trump’s misconduct and sat silently during his racist taunts, demonization of government, and war on the legitimacy of the electoral system and the Constitution itself.
As I watched these events, I was horrified but realized I had seen them before. As a young Jewish boy growing up in Alabama in the 1960s, I saw police and white Americans beat up peaceful protestors, sometimes lynching them. These marauders proclaimed themselves “patriots” just like those who vandalized Congress Wednesday.
When protestors were proclaiming “Black Lives Matters” near the Capitol, police surrounded Congress. When I walked into Congress in 2019 to testify against President Donald Trump in his impeachment proceedings, police were everywhere. When I returned to the Senate to work on President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, police again were everywhere. But on Wednesday, as violence erupted at the Capitol, the police presence was weak. Trump refused to order the National Guard to protect Congress or its members — and later lied he had ordered them “immediately” to protect Congress.
How do we move forward? How will the president, and his many enablers, be held accountable? We can proclaim our commitment to the rule of law, but that is not enough, especially since some senators already abandoned their often-expressed reverence for states’ rights and insinuated they had the ultimate power to undo what the states upheld. It’s easy for anyone, including the complicit, to cry “rule of law” and “law and order” amid this disaster. But how do we make sure we actually enforce those things with norms eroded to this extent?
The available options all have one thing in common: not just announcing our commitment to the rule of law, but actively applying it to Trump and those who broke laws in his name. Someone has to pay for the damage done, and it should not be the law-abiding citizens of this country.
For those Trump appointees who enabled Trump’s misconduct, from the lying to the destruction of documents to obstructing the institutions of democracy, there must be accountability. It is not enough that some may be resigning now. That is not an act of courage, but a lame attempt to avoid responsibility. Rather than preventing further damage, they saved themselves. They should not find safe harbor to bide their time before they reenter government to pick up where they left off.
Any abetting lawyers should be sanctioned wherever they are licensed for breaking ethical rules forbidding them from making misleading and false statements and facilitating the commission of crimes and breaches of the Constitution. Allowing or ignoring smaller crimes supposedly to prevent larger crimes is not a defense: Two wrongs — or a dozen of them — don’t make anything right.
Though impeachment is unlikely before Joe Biden’s inauguration, presidents remain subject to the process after leaving office. Trump may be barred from any future federal service or pensions, for both attempted voter fraud in Georgia and inciting violence against Congress.
Each chamber of Congress also can sanction its own members. At the very least, House members and senators who fomented, encouraged, ignored, or sanctioned violence should be reprimanded if not ousted. Start with Sen. Josh Hawley, who raised his fist in solidarity with the marauders and did Trump’s dirty work on the Senate floor; Sen. Ted Cruz, who spewed lies to support sedition; and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who denounced the violence and recognized Biden as duly elected, but blamed Democrats for starting this insurrection. How fitting that Georgia’s two new senators symbolize the change McConnell’s been fighting against.
The private sector, too, can hold insurrectionists accountable, from denying employment for the fleeing rats, firing insurrectionists (as has begun), and canceling Hawley’s vanity book contract.
John Adams spoke of ours as a “government of laws, not men.” If we really wish to turn the page on Trump and the damage he has wrought, leaving office is just the beginning of his penance.