By John Hart
Before the Georgia elections I argued that President Trump’s “fake hope” was sabotaging conservatism and our ability to advance solutions in areas like the economy, health care and the environment. On January 6 we saw something far, far worse. On a day that will live in infamy, an American president assaulted Congress, our Constitution and our system of self-government.
A Capitol Hill police officer is dead. Four other Americans are dead. The Capitol building has been desecrated. A peaceful transfer of power was delayed by a president who incited a domestic terrorist attack. If not for a Vice President with a moral compass who ignored the president’s brazenly seditious orders, we may be fighting in the streets.
Congress – especially Republicans – and then our courts should swiftly, decisively and methodically hold President Trump accountable.
It is impossible to overstate the gravity of these events. On January 3, all 10 living former defense secretaries inadvertently downplayed the context when they said we have had peaceful transfers of presidential power since the Civil War. But history shows we had peaceful transfers of presidential power even during the Civil War.
In 1860, the man responsible for reading and certifying the electoral votes, Vice President John Breckenridge, was the same man who had just run against Lincoln and lost. Breckinridge had run on a straight pro-slavery platform and there was considerable doubt if Breckinridge would certify the results. With mobs gathering in Washington, Breckenridge could have incited conflict. But he didn’t. Instead, he certified the results.
Trump’s seditious acts were unprecedented in our history. They were an abomination. January 6 isn’t just an international embarrassment. Left unchecked, it is an existential threat to American democracy.
In America, peaceful transfers of power aren’t merely quaint traditions reinforced by kind and courageous notes to successors. They are foundational. George Washington’s America – our America – is a permanent rejection of the rule of rulers and a permanent embrace of the rule of law. January 6 is not who we are, and it must never be what we become. President Trump cannot undo his decision not to respect this tradition. He cannot unbreak what he has broken. He must be held accountable. And Republicans must lead the way.
The president’s decision to finally concede the 2020 election via video is too little, too late gesture. With the Wall Street Journal editorial board and Peggy Noonan, Reagan’s rhetorical rudder, now calling for impeachment or resignation, congressional Republicans can’t pass off looming impeachment articles in the Democrat-led House as partisan excess.
In politics, partisanship is asking the other side to clean up its messes. Leadership is taking responsibility for your own messes. The brutal reality is Republicans helped create this mess by indulging in Trump’s post-election fantasies and therefore have a special responsibility to demonstrate leadership by cleaning it up. Put simply, Republicans should choose to take the first disciplinary steps before Jerrold Nadler and congressional Democrats do it for them.
This is not remotely fair to congressional Republicans, but life often is not fair. Depending on one’s rank, Donald Trump is an abusive and co-dependent spouse, or an abusive parent. No amount of loyalty was slavish enough to prevent the next slap. When pressed to get out of this relationship or set boundaries the response was a variation of “I’m afraid.” But now that Trump has directed his narcissistic rage at the Capitol, and our system of self-government itself, this self-inflicted helplessness must end. Republicans have a moral, and constitutional, obligation to hold the president accountable regardless of how it impacts their party or their personal political safety.
This is a moment of truth. Our Constitution exists to give Americans the opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully. As long as we build monuments to our soldiers who give their lives defending this right, elected officials must also defend it with their political lives. Republicans have no other choice.
Republicans as a group can’t invoke the 25th Amendment but they can and should concurrently draft a censure resolution and at least one article of impeachment based on the president’s seditious call for Vice President Pence to not certify the results of the election. This article could pass the House and Senate today and would not require a lengthy trial.
Yet, the president’s crimes and grotesque offenses against our Constitution deserve a lengthy trial and rebuke from the legislative and judicial branch. Republicans in both chambers should therefore draft a censure resolution that details the scope of the president’s illegal conduct and then allow courts to pursue criminal prosecution. A prosecutor could build a strong case the president incited an insurrection (10-year maximum sentence) and engaged in a seditious conspiracy (20-year sentence). The president may also be implicated in any future charges associated the death of Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick as well as other fatalities and injuries.
Senate Republicans know the president committed illegal acts. Trump-ally and former prosecutor U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said the president’s directives to Vice President Pence were “unconstitutional” and “illegal.” I suspect at least two-thirds of Senators agree with him.
Conservatives are right to call for a broader debate about the media and the left’s culpability in a promoting a post-truth culture that allows some groups to destroy some federal buildings but not others. But all constitutional conservatives have a special responsibility to speak up now and say to President Trump what Thomas Jefferson said for the ages. We swear “upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
The tyranny of January 6 must not stand.