This week the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump has been a riveting political drama that continues into the weekend. Early Saturday, Feb 12 it became apparent that there were enough Senate votes, including Republican Senators, to compel witnesses in the drama that has reawoken the horror of Jan. 6.
The bipartisan vote this morning will compel witnesses. If called, some of the witnesses can describe in devastating detail, what they experienced. Trump himself might be compelled to testify. It should be pointed out House and Senate members, their staff and the thousands of workers on Capitol Hill were witnesses to the violent assault.
The case, ably presented this week by the House Managers to the Senate “jury”, revealed in side-by-side timelines the actions of the insurrectionists, the violence at the Capitol, juxtaposed with the actions — most would say inaction — of the president to do anything to stop the attack on the co-equal legislative branch of our government and defend the Capitol. In contrast, Trump’s attorneys took only a few hours to make their case.
In fact, House Managers had already laid out the many months-long build-up to the violence during the campaign as Trump claimed hundreds of times that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. Then for 77 days following the election (which he lost by seven million votes and overwhelming lost the electoral college votes) he refused to concede, launching nearly 70 court lawsuits all of which he lost. He continued to insist he had won in a landslide introducing the mantra of “Stop the Steal.”
Within the 17 days leading up to Jan. 6, Trump issued constant directives to his supporters to show up at the Capitol on Jan. 6, telling them “it will be wild.” Trump was personally involved in planning that rally. It did not have a permit for a march on the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue, a fact which didn’t stop Trump or his right-wing supporters.
The violent assault by what is being described as homegrown “domestic terrorists” was shown to have come close to threatening the life of Vice President Mike Pence, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; the number two and number three leaders in line for the presidency, as well as the safety of incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, who was there in her Senate role.
In the midst of the violence, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the president to tell him the Vice President had just been evacuated, begging him to call off the attackers (a conversation peppered with obscenities and resulting in McCarthy hanging up on the president when McCarthy himself was evacuated from the Senate floor). Instead of providing any assistance, the president resumed tweeting that Pence didn’t have the courage to do what he wanted to be done, which is what Pence could not do; to ignore his constitutional duty and overturn the election.
With an unknown number of witnesses that may be called, it does not appear that the trial will be over this weekend as had been expected.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that Senators’ votes are “a vote of conscience.”
This is about courage and fear; 17 Republican Senators would need to join the 50 Democratic Senators for impeachment to be upheld. Whether 17 Republican Senators can overcome their terror of Trump and their paralyzing fear of his right-wing supporters (militias, Patriot groups, QAnon conspiracists, White supremacists, White Nationalists, KKK, and other extremist groups) is a matter of debate.
If they joined that vote to uphold the impeachment and prevent Trump from ever again running for public office, Republicans are in a position to turn the page on this chapter of violence, hate, bigotry, and intolerance.
At its heart, lies this choice: whether to reaffirm our democracy or embrace a slide into authoritarianism. “The decision tomorrow is simple,” said Presidential Historian John Meacham on Friday night. Are we a democratic republic, or are we a cult of personality?”
It will now take a bit longer before we know.
Featured image: The United States Capitol from the northwest, Senate-side. Photo by Jan Wondra