Republican supporters of President Trump have run out of principled reasons not to hold him accountable for his wicked deeds. They have turned instead to a kind of extortion. They admit the deadly insurrection last week at the U.S. Capitol was a terrible thing. But, they threaten, if Democrats or a few principled GOP members of Congress try to impose penalties on the president for inciting that insurrection, well, things might really get bad.
"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," Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) wrote in a weekend tweet.
Brady is perhaps the most straightforward in equating truth-based consequences with the lies (that Democrats stole the presidential election) Trump and allies like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) promoted in advance of last Wednesday's riot. But he is far from alone among Republicans insisting that America move on from a disaster that is still unfolding. Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) joined several other members of Congress in writing a letter urging President-elect Joe Biden to call off Democratic efforts to impeach Trump, "in the spirit of healing and fidelity to the Constitution."
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"Let's move forward," added Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who also signed the letter.
It might be worth swallowing the lost justice that comes with "moving forward" if it means a restoration of domestic tranquility and a modicum of mutual respect. But there is little reason to believe that will be the case. Trump has not backed off his false claims that he won the election. Hawley and Cruz have offered no apology for objecting to the certification of Biden's victory. Horrifying new videos and information about the insurrection continue to emerge. Trump-friendly lawmakers like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have found themselves in scary confrontations with the president's supporters, and Vice President Mike Pence — who has been slavishly devoted to the president these last four years — now faces death threats.
"The stuff I've heard in the last 72 hours — from members of Congress, law enforcement friends, gun shop owners, MAGA devotees — is absolutely chilling," Politico's Tim Alberta wrote over the weekend. "We need to brace for a wave of violence in this country. Not just over the next couple of weeks, but over the next couple of years." Terrifying stuff.
Looking forward requires accountability — now.
But so far, Trump has had no real disincentive to stop lying about the election or anything else. When he tried to undermine the election by pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, Republicans gave him a free pass. Voters tried to punish his awful presidency by turning him out of office, but he has spent the last two months trying to overturn their will. The only real penalty he has paid for all of this is losing his Twitter account. If the last four years have taught us anything, it is that Trump will do whatever he can get away with. He does not, and will not, restrain himself — not for the sake of decency, certainly. "Moving forward" in the Trump era has only ever given this president new opportunities to commit new transgressions. At some point, there has to be a price, or the cycle will continue. At a minimum, that should mean impeachment.
Will that bring an end to the threat posed by Trump's QAnon-loving supporters and congressional enablers? Not right away, in all likelihood. Curbing our national rage addiction is going to mean, in part, choking off the supply. This president has been nothing if not America's most dedicated purveyor of pure, refined grievance. It cannot be the case that "unity" requires Americans to simply accept those misdeeds and hope against all odds things will get better.
The good news is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has promised to bring impeachment charges. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated those charges will be slow-walked in his chamber, however. No matter. It is quite likely the process of holding Donald Trump accountable for his misdeeds has only just begun.
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