President Donald Trump has been impeached for the second time, which is itself a first in American history. The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week to impeach the president for “inciting an insurrection” on January 6th, when hundreds of his supporters stormed and occupied the Capitol Building for several hours. Five people died as a result of the riot, including a Capitol Hill police officer and a veteran who had traveled from San Diego to attend a Trump rally in Washington, D.C.
The president was accused of inciting the riot by perpetuating a series of lies regarding the validity of the November 3rd election that resulted in former Vice-President Joe Biden winning the presidency. Trump refused to concede defeat and repeatedly claimed the election was “rigged” and “stolen” by massive voter “fraud.” Yet, in numerous court challenges in battleground states, his lawyers failed to produce evidence of such fraud and certainly not on a scale that would have changed the results of the election. All of the states eventually certified their results as expected and sent electors to vote in the Electoral College in a manner that would confirm Biden’s presidency.
As a last gasp, Trump demanded his own Vice-President, Mike Pence, declare him the winner during the formal counting and certification of the Electoral College votes in the Senate on January 6th. Trump scheduled a rally in the capital that day, calling on supporters from all over the country to come to Washington, D.C., and demonstrate to pressure Pence and Republican senators to reject the electoral votes won by Biden and instead hand the election to Trump.
Few constitutional scholars thought Pence had the power to rule for Trump. Only a handful of senators were prepared to contest the results. That reality did not deter Trump, who continued to argue the election was a fraud and that public pressure by his supporters could swing the final result in his favor.
At least 45,000 people attended the “Save America Rally” just a few blocks from the Capitol building. They heard Trump lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani tell them that contesting the election was “trial by combat.” In his own speech, Trump one time said the crowd would be marching “peacefully” and “patriotically” to the Capitol Building, but the overall tenor of his speech was inflammatory and a repetition of the election lies he had been telling the country for weeks. He said the election had been “stolen.” He urged his supporters to walk to the Capitol Building, saying, “You have to show strength. You have to be strong.” He said, “You have to make your voices heard.”
It’s unclear how much the president’s speech actually caused the ensuing violence. There is emerging evidence some number of the rioters were far-right types who had planned in advance to try and take over the building. Others appeared to be inspired by the president, however, as even several GOP state officials were eventually seen illegally inside the Capitol. Whatever the cause and effect, the size and determination of hundreds of the marchers overwhelmed an unprepared Capitol Hill police presence and forced their way inside the building. They smashed windows and ransacked offices. Senators and Congressmen were sent scurrying to protected areas. One rioter was seen carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern out of the House chamber. A San Diego veteran was shot trying to break through a window into a secured area.
Trump’s response was delayed and initially very weak. Watching the carnage on television, he issued a statement asking the rioters to respect the police, but he also called the rioters “very special people.” Throughout his presidency, Trump could not bring himself to criticize any person or group he believed constituted his base of support. That weakness showed even during an attack on the very institutional foundation of the country. It would take the president until the next day to partially condemn the rioters.
Some argue the police response to the rioters was an example of white supremacy, that police would have had a much harsher and more violent response if the rioters had been Black Lives Matter demonstrators or otherwise BIPOC (Black Indigenous People Of Color). The allegations are disputed. Many of the police were themselves Black officers. They claim they were overwhelmed by numbers and lacked the kind of non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets that could have deterred the rioters. Efforts to mobilize the National Guard in advance of the demonstration had been resisted by House and Senate law enforcement officials who apparently did not want the optics of a military presence.
The Trump presidency was over as of the 20th. The only question is whether the Senate will try him on the impeachment resolution after he has left office. A conviction would lead to a follow-up vote to bar him from ever holding office again. There are Republican senators who believe Trump is a cancer in the party and needs to be excised now, so that he cannot hold the possibility of a 2024 run for re-election over their heads. There are others, too many, who fear angering his still-influential base of support. Most Democrats believe Trump is a cancer on the country, period. They and a horrified nation watched his most ardent supporters attack the halls of the country’s democracy. Four years of Trump is enough for a majority of the country. The United States of America needs to heal.