A Proportionate Response to the Capitol Assault

Impeaching Trump is an important step, but we must to do more to stop this from happening again

This is a moment of crisis.

America is teetering on the brink of something we have never experienced before. Last Wednesday’s event must never be forgotten or minimized. This was not a protest turned violent, it was an armed white supremacist lynch mob — egged on by the President and many in his party to overturn an election. As horrific as the events were, it could have been so much worse. Were it not for some quick thinking staffers, heroic police officers, and some dumb luck, members of Congress might have been executed for doing their jobs as some in the crowd made clear with their chants and social media posts.

The assault on the Capitol must be a moment of crystal clarity for Democrats about who and what we are up against.

The next ten days are going to be consumed with questions about if, how, and when Trump can be removed from office. We need Trump gone. We needed him gone years ago. He is an existential threat to everything we stand for as Americans. He is dumb, he is deranged, and he is dangerous.

But if you think Trump’s election created the context for Wednesday’s insurrection, you are wrong. And if you think Trump being removed from office now or in nine days will end it, you are wrong.

Trump is the person who lit the match, but Republicans, Right Wing Media personalities, and Social Media companies have been pouring the gas on the ground for years.

This is a cancer on the body politic and we need to treat it as such. Our response must  be aggressive and extensive enough to eliminate every bit of the cancer. Trump is just a symptom and if we stop with him and what happened on Wednesday, the cancer will return stronger and more dangerous than before.

Impeachment Alone is Insufficient

As I write this, two things seem close to inevitable: Trump will be impeached and the Senate Republicans will ensure that he is not removed from office before his term expires. Trump deserves to be impeached. His conduct since the election is perhaps the highest crime ever committed by a U.S. President. This is an open and shut case and any Republican who votes against impeaching and removing Trump are violating their oath of office. Impeachment is necessary, but insufficient.

An impeachment proceeding on such a shortened timeline does not allow for sufficient examination of what brought us to this moment. While it will affix Donald Trump with the deserved historical notoriety of being the only President to be impeached twice, that punishment doesn’t fit the crime or address the root causes of Trumpism. If the Senate convicts Trump, he will be prohibited from running for public office again. That is not a small thing. Our political system is sufficiently rigged in the favor of Republicans that Trump winning in 2024 — even after all this — is a real risk. However, any Senate trial will, by necessity, be shorter than it should be since the Democrats will be forced to choose between hearing from witnesses and confirming Biden’s Cabinet and passing his legislative agenda.

I am sympathetic to the fact that Joe Biden ran for President on a message of unity and healing. There is a deep desire in the American public to turn the page on this dark chapter in American history. But unity and accountability are not opposite sides of the same coin. Turning the other cheek will not help us heal the soul of the nation. It could ensure the wounds remain open.

If we are ever going to move past this moment, we need a thorough accounting. We need the equivalent of the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation commission staffed with career prosecutors who scour the government top to bottom for crimes and corruption and presents a report to the Congress, the American people, and the Department of Justice. Where crimes have been committed, they are referred for prosecution. Where loopholes in our system are identified, proposals on how to close them are sent to Congress.

The investigations into the Trump Administration have been exceedingly narrow and stymied by persistent obstruction. We have barely seen the tip of the iceberg. House Republicans spent the first two years ignoring their constitutional obligations and the Trump White House spent the last two years ignoring every subpoena and document request from Congress. We know less about what happened during the Trump Administration than any administration in modern political history.

All of the crimes, corruption, and abuses of power starting on January 20, 2017 led to what happened in the Capitol. If we don’t ever know the full extent of what exactly happened, we can’t prevent something like this from happening again. If the people responsible are not held accountable, they will be emboldened to do even worse if and when they return to power.

This is a Republican Problem

In recent days, some Republicans have said some good things, but very few have expressed even the slightest willingness to do a single thing. Most of them are already in the process of rewriting history to absolve themselves of any responsibility. Republican Congressmen like Matt Gaetz and Fox News hacks like Brit Hume have already started spreading conspiracy theories that Antifa was responsible for the violence. Representative Darrel Issa referred to Trump’s incitement of an armed mob as a “misstep.” Others like to pretend the lies that led to the riot were only told by Trump, but as Politico’s Tim Alberta wrote:

So convinced were the president’s allies that his rhetoric was harmless that many not only rationalized it, but actually dialed it up. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who once skewered Trump’s dishonesty, promised “earth-shattering” evidence to support his former rival’s claims of a rigged election. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy insisted that “President Trump won this election,” told of a plot to cheat him and alerted the viewers watching him on Fox News, “We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who famously called Trump “a pathological liar,” himself lied so frequently and so shamelessly it became difficult to keep up. Dozens of other congressional Republicans leveled sweeping, unsubstantiated allegations of mass voter fraud, some of them promoting the #stopthesteal campaign online.

With only a handful of exceptions, the Republican Party bears direct responsibility for what happened at the Capitol. They stood by Trump every step of the way. They echoed his lies about the election or validated them through opportunistic silence. They paved the way for his ascent with a political strategy that depended on sowing racial division and weaponizing conspiracy theories. Donald Trump — his authoritarianism, his racism, and his corruption — are simply an extension of modern Republicanism.

The Republicans who played the largest roles must be held accountable for the part they played in the tragedy. Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz should be censured. The Republican House members who voted to overturn the election after a mob of their supporters had ransacked the Capitol looking to murder their colleagues should face censure or even expulsion. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, who tweeted out Nancy Pelosi’s location to the violent mob, should be investigated, charged, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Some of these censure votes will fail, but they should happen anyway. Everyone needs to go on record about whether they will hold those who sought to overturn a democratic election responsible. Unlike impeachment, censure measures require only a simple majority. Dislike of ambitious snake oil salesmen Cruz and Hawley is the one thing that unites Democrats and Republicans. As Republican Senator Lindsey Graham once said of Cruz.

If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.

Let’s put it to a vote.

Additionally, we need grassroots campaigns to pressure corporations to stop contributing to the Republicans who undermined our democracy. These campaigns must include the Republican National Committee, Congressional campaign committees, and other Republican groups. Attempting to overturn a democratic election needs to remain outside of the realm of acceptable politics. If it isn’t, 2020 is going to be the high water mark of how the Republican Party deals with electoral defeat.

More Democracy is the Only Solution

More than half of House Republicans supported overturning the results of the election — a position that is held by a distinct minority of Americans. Donald Trump came within a hair of being reelected despite receiving seven million fewer votes. Senate Republicans controlled the Senate for the last six years even though they represent a smaller swath of the population.

We have two related problems: a minority of our citizens are being radicalized with conspiracy theories and racially divisive rhetoric and that minority has a massively disproportionate share of political power. Republicans kowtow to this fringe, because our political system rewards them for doing so. Ultimately, the only way to cure the cancer of Trumpism is to reform our political system to end minority rule. Republicans will only change their behavior if their political power depends on appealing to the majority of Americans. While there will be a temptation to lower the temperature and avoid divisive rhetoric, the insurrection is an argument for advancing a bold agenda of Democratic reforms — statehood for D.C., ending the filibuster, court reform, ending gerrymandering, and a massive voter expansion agenda.

I recognize that there is limited appetite among a lot of Democrats for taking on such big issues in the middle of a pandemic and a recession. But this is a big problem that requires a big solution. If we nibble around the edges and try to put this behind us, we are opening the door to the next demagogue to ride the wave of Trumpism into power.

The next time we might not be so lucky.