The push to expel Donald Trump from office, if not our future, is in full gear. Good thing or bad? There are wise and powerful arguments on both sides, but as a Boomer Voice, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes that to him, the movement is the lesser of two evils.
The traitors aren’t going away.
When you read what they’ve been saying, even after the Capitol was ransacked and five people died, even after federal agents routed some from their rat holes in different parts of the country and charged them with federal crimes, you have to realize, they’re not going away. The threat to our democracy isn’t over. Not by a long shot.
Because more are still out there. And even more unnerving, between the unpatriotic lowlifes who got away and the unpatriotic lowlifes who cheered them on and the unpatriotic lowlifes in Congress who still find common cause, they constitute no small chunk of American society. In the first surveys after the insurrection, roughly three-quarters of the American people condemned it. Leaving roughly a quarter, who didn’t.
As senior editor David Frum rhetorically asked in The Atlantic, “Who converted these once-ordinary Americans into enemies of democracy?”
We do have to recognize that for reasons the rest of us can’t fathom— and I, for one, have been trying— tens of millions of Americans still support Trump. In The Bulwark, Richard North Patterson framed the roots of their unrest this way: “The toxins of racial and cultural estrangement; the disintegration of communal bonds; the proliferation of mind-numbing misinformation; the accelerating gaps in wealth and opportunity; the increasingly ossified class system—which, in turn, erode faith in democracy as a means of resolving our problems.”
I want to believe though, I have to believe, most of them are not willing to throw our democracy under the bus. Because that would put them on the side of people like the insurrectionist who shouted as he helped storm the Capitol, “It is time for war.” Or another who said, “We’re not backing down anymore, this is our country.” Or the one who promised, “Believe me, we are well armed if we need to be.” Or the county commissioner from New Mexico who was there and posted afterward on Facebook, “We took the building once, we can take it again.” He even wrote of another Capitol conclave soon, contemplating “blood running out of that building.”
Do those tens of millions know that on the same day as the attempted coup at the Capitol, armed men also threatened violence at Georgia’s and New Mexico’s state capitols, and at the governor’s mansion in the state of Washington? Do they know that what happened in Washington DC was not a peaceful march gone bad, it was a conspiracy? That the term “Storm the Capitol” showed up 100,000 times on social media in the month before the insurrection? That one message on social media recommended to anyone heading for Washington, “Pack a crowbar?”
They packed crowbars and more. Clubs, knives, pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails. They brought in sledge hammers, ladders, plastic wrist restraints.
And a noose. Maybe they missed the irony that treason used to be a hanging offense.
And are millions of Americans okay with the fact that according to Twitter, “Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating” online, including “a proposed secondary attack on the U.S. Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17?”
If they are, heaven help us. Their complaint was articulated by a self-proclaimed evangelical Christian who was in the mob on the Capitol steps and told The New York Times, “We are representing the 74 million people who got disenfranchised.” Disenfranchised? Really? They were only disenfranchised by the 81 million Americans who voted the other way.
And where does Donald Trump fit into all this? Well first, you could simply say that you’re known by the company you keep. In this case, terrorists in the United States Capitol bearing the flag of the secessionist slave-owning Confederacy. Throngs flying the Trump flag above the American flag. A Capitol invader in a shirt stamped with the flesh-crawling words, “Camp Auschwitz.”
But maybe more to the point, you could go back to last September’s unpresidential debate when, given the chance to disavow the overtly combative Proud Boys by telling them to stand down, instead all this president could say was, “Stand back and stand by.” Or to his more recent assurance to all who would come to Washington for the rally on January 6th that things would be “wild.” Or on the heels of Rudy Giuliani’s call at the rally itself for “trial by combat,” and Michael Flynn’s appeal to “bleed” for freedom, and Don Jr.’s warning to fellow Republicans who’d finally shown an ounce of independence, “We’re coming for you,” you need only go back to the president’s own incendiary exhortation as the crowd made ready to capture the Capitol: “You’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
As journalist Mort Rosenblum put it in an essay entitled “Barbarians at the Gate,” Trump has been “so unmistakably clear, he might as well have bright red flash cards and an interpreter signing at his shoulder.”
What Trump was telling his overheated henchmen— the bald-faced lie he has been telling everyone since Election Day itself— was, “They stole my presidency, go get it back.” Trump is a party to the conspiracy. Or as legal scholar Clark D. Cunningham wrote with more exactitude, the “criminal conspiracy.”
In my career as a foreign correspondent, I’ve been in the middle of everything from attempted coups to government takeovers to full-scale revolutions. This looked no different. Except for one thing: in some I saw, nobody died. Five Americans died last week in Washington. More, by the way, than those who died in the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, which arguably cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. And she’s not the one who egged on the terrorists.
Last week, Trump was. Remember when a lot of us described this man merely as an authoritarian? How quaint, because now he’s so much more. He’s an anarchist. He’s an arsonist. A president’s job— his very oath of office— is to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution. It’s a sad time in the nation’s history when our job is to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution from the president.
But we must. Not just as a punishment for this president, but as an admonition for the pretenders who would follow him.
Donald Trump incited the mob. He inflamed the mob. He made a double-faced attempt afterward to throw water on a three-alarm fire but all it amounted to, from the man who lit the torch, was showing up with a garden hose. And then telling traitors who carried his flame, “We love you, you’re very special.” One White House aide described Trump as “borderline excited” as the insurrection unfolded. Another told Senator Ben Sasse that the president was “delighted” when the mob stormed the Capitol. This was unforgivable. It was the antithesis of patriotism. It was treason.
The ogre in the Oval Office is like a mafia capo giving a hit man the order— not a stretch after hearing how he talked to Georgia’s Secretary of State— to commit a murder. Even if the capo doesn’t pull the trigger, the blood’s on his hands. Donald Trump urged his people to take back his presidency. Even if he didn’t smash through the barriers himself, the looting, the vandalism, the deaths, are on his hands.
As John Cassidy wrote in The New Yorker, “In other democracies, a leader who tried to overthrow an election result and incited a violent insurrection might well be cooling his heels in prison by now.”
Are there risks in trying to thwart Donald Trump, to expel the president from office and forever disqualify him from ever holding it again? Absolutely. But just as he used the White House to foment sedition, then did nothing as thugs acted on his onslaughts, there are greater risks if we don’t.
This is about the rule of law. It is about whether we do something, or nothing, when it’s broken. That’s why, even with the short time left, it’s not just legitimate to go after Donald Trump. It’s necessary.