Trump’s Impeachment Defense Is One Last Act of Nihilistic Audacity

Charles P. PierceTue, 9 February 2021, 10:01 am

Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN - Getty Images
Photo credit: MANDEL NGAN – Getty Images

From Esquire

We got a look at the strategy with which the lawyers hired on by the former president* will be engaging his second trial before the Senate. All things being relative, the constitutional question of whether or not a former president* can be convicted of an impeachable offense after he leaves office is the most serious of the issues at trial. Because, bless their slave-holding souls, the Founders were so deeply fond of ambiguity, and because not enough of us were paying attention in history class when William Belknap was discussed, this is a question that at least is worthy of debate. I come down on the side of the Constitution’s being silent on the matter, so full speed ahead. And I would argue that it is of compelling national importance that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago be disqualified from ever holding an office of political trust again, and this is the only absolute legal guarantee against that particular calamity. And that is as important a reason for impeaching someone as punishing the person is.

As historian Richard White wrote in the New York Times, discussing the case brought against Belknap, who was impeached and tried—and acquitted—after resigning as Secretary of War:

The purpose of the constitutional clauses providing for impeachment were not simply to remove a person from office but to purify government, prevent future crimes and give warning to those who would attempt crimes. Stevenson claimed that under the interpretation of those who denied the Senate’s jurisdiction, government could become a carousel of corruption and criminality. The corrupt could dismount from office as necessary and remount when the time was opportune. Despite their defeat, the House managers were sanguine. They thought the case settled the principle that those who committed crimes while in office were liable for impeachment no matter whether they still held office or when the prosecution took place.

That’s the serious question, and one that’s scheduled to dominate the debate in the Senate when things open up on Tuesday. As for the rest of the document filed by the defense on Monday, it reads like something halfway between a direct-mail appeal and an episode of Hannity. “Democrat” is used as an adjective throughout, which does nothing except mark the speaker or writer as both petty and illiterate. (In fact, the fifth and sixth words of the document are, “Democrat members.”) The defense brief goes on to a lengthy—and somewhat fantastical, for anyone who watched the rally that preceded the insurrection— reinterpretation of the events of January 6.

Of the over 10,000 words spoken, Mr. Trump used the word “fight” a little more than a handful of times and each time in the figurative sense that has long been accepted in public discourse when urging people to stand and use their voices to be heard on matters important to them; it was not and could not be construed to encourage acts of violence. Notably absent from his speech was any reference to or encouragement of an insurrection, a riot, criminal action, or any acts of physical violence whatsoever. The only reference to force was in taking pride in his administration’s creation of the Space Force.

“Use their voices,” is very nice. It’s as though the rally took place in a quiet corner of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Only someone unaware, or choosing to ignore, the atmosphere of violence and vengeance that has attended every one of the former president*’s rallies since the summer of 2015 could write that sentence. But then we move on to a passage in which the former president*’s lengthy tantrum is transfigured into patriotic oratory that would make Abraham Lincoln sound like Benedict Arnold.

Mr. Trump greeting the crowd by remarking on the honor he felt looking out at the many “American patriots who are committed to the honesty of our elections and integrity of our glorious Republic.” He went on to thank the crowd for their “extraordinary love” noting “that’s what it is. There’s never been a movement like this ever, ever for the extraordinary love for this amazing country and this amazing movement. Thank you.” Mr. Trump told those gathered that “we’re gathering in the heart of our Nation’s Capital for one very, very basic and simple reason, to save our democracy.”

You can be forgiven if the voice of sweet reason in your head is bellowing, “SAVE IT FROM WHAT? A FREE AND FAIR ELECTION, FAIRLY COUNTED??????” The translation of the whopping lie that enraged the mob on January 6 into a paean to the democratic spirit that glows in the heart of all free people in this republic is one last act of nihilistic audacity, just so we won’t all forget what it was like to be ruled from bedlam.