As roughly everybody knows, on January 6, 2021, then-President Donald J Trump stirred up a crowd by claiming that the most recent presidential election was stolen from him, implying that Joe Biden’s ascension to the office was illegitimate. Immediately thereafter a crowd of Trump supporters, some of whom were armed, attacked the Capitol and attempted to stop Congress from carrying out its lawful duty in counting the electoral votes of the several states. Counting those electoral votes was the last formal step in certifying the election, paving the way for Mr. Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.
In the aftermath, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell pinned responsibility for the attack on Trump. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the Senate minority leader Charles Schumer demanded that Trump ether step down or be forced from office immediately. As in right away, without delay. (See the You Tube video below dated January 12, 2021.)
In the event, Pelosi and Schumer demanded, naturally enough, that someone else take action. When that didn’t work, the House impeached Trump for the second time. The vote came on January 13, 2021, a day after Schumer’s speech. But then a funny thing happened. Speaker Pelosi didn’t get around to sending the article of impeachment to the Senate for 12 days, by which time Biden had been sworn in and Trump had become a private citizen.
Not only that, the article of impeachment was for incitement. Trump could easily have been impeached for dereliction. He, as Commander-in-Chief, refused to respond to an attack on the seat of government. Moreover he rebuked his own Vice President for refusing to tamper with the states’ electoral votes. Not only are those surely impeachable offenses; the evidence is unassailable.
As it now stands, after insisting on the immediacy of the situation, Speaker Pelosi took her time sending over a deeply flawed article of impeachment. The trial is not scheduled to begin until February 8, 2021. Moreover, the article she sent over contains two important constitutional issues. The first has to do with the definition of incitement—at what point does a political speech become incitement to violence? The second has to do with impeaching a former president.
The balance of the evidence suggests that a former president may be impeached, paving the way for a majority vote that would prohibit him from holding office again. But there is sufficient ambiguity to make the case less than clear cut.
The issue of incitement is more problematic. Did Trump incite his followers to violence? It is my opinion that he did. But having said that, we need to acknowledge several factors. First, restricting the political speech of a sitting politician sets a dangerous precedent when free speech is already under attack. Second, the incitement charge was totally unnecessary to achieve the desired goal, namely securing a conviction in the Senate. Third, because of (presumably) sloppy drafting and the constitutional issues involved, Republicans can dodge the underlying issue. In effect they are being given a low cost opportunity to vote for acquittal.
An acquittal would allow Trump to argue that once again, he has been exonerated. That is surely not an outcome to be welcomed. But it sure looks like the path of least resistance, due in part to the handiwork of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer. As always they have quashed the national interest in favor of their own narrow political interests.