April 18, 2021

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Opinion: Two men cried in the Senate Tuesday. One of them made a devastating case against Trump

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This is not a situation in which both sides are equal. One side, the Democratic House managers, made their case with a video all Americans should watch, which cast into sharp relief just how violent and blood-thirsty the Capitol insurrectionists were, and just how much they were encouraged by President Trump. This side — those arguing for impeachment — came into these hearings with a solemn sense of duty, not to their own political aspirations or the viability of their party or even their constituents, but to nothing less than sustaining American democracy. The other side — the Republicans defending the former President — have a singular goal: Protect Trump and Trumpism at all costs.
Two men came close to tears at Tuesday’s hearing, each representative of his respective side. The first was Rep. Jamie Raskin, who recounted bringing his daughter to the Capitol soon after his son’s tragic death so that he could do his civic duty and vote to certify the results of the 2020 election, even in the face of a president who had spent months trying to undermine them. When Trump supporters stormed the building, Raskin said, his scared and grieving daughter told him she never wanted to return to the Capitol. Raskin’s voice shook as he told this story, thick with heartbreak in every direction: over his son’s death, over an attack on a country he loves and serves, over the diminishing faith in the democratic systems that once set America apart, over his daughter seeing the capitol of a great nation as a place of terror and fear.

The second nearly weeping man was Trump lawyer David Schoen. He appeared largely unmoved by any description of the riots of January 6, but did seem to choke back tears as he finished his lengthy remarks by reading a Longfellow poem.

This is not a hearing in which the differences stem from both sides simply disagreeing on the merits, or issues of procedure, or even on big constitutional questions. This is a hearing in which the differences are basic and profound, and strike at the heart of what it means to be an American.

One side watched a great wrong be perpetrated on the American democratic system — a wrong from which we have not recovered, which was incited by a dangerous and autocratic president, and which could happen again if we do not take appropriate action. That side says that this wrong must be righted; we must understand what happened, and how it happened, and who made it happen, so that we might find some accountability and catharsis, and so that the horrific events of January 6, 2021, do not repeat themselves. That side insists that American democracy is both valuable and fragile, that it must be defended, that it is the duty of those in elected office to preserve and protect it.

Trump's trial gets off to a shaky start

That side put on a serious, meticulously prepared, and well-reasoned case, and made their arguments clear and accessible to an American public they hope are watching.

The other side doesn’t want to have this conversation because it’s inconvenient. There is no sense of duty. There is little fealty to democratic ideals, to the idea that actions may have consequences even for Republicans, or even to the Constitution itself. This side was ill-prepared and incoherent, alternately rambling along and getting the basics of constitutional law wrong, or shouting culture-war slogans about people being “canceled” and Democrats being “elites.”
Shamefully, little of it seemed to matter to the overwhelming majority of Republican senators. All but six of them voted along partisan lines in opposition to allowing the trial to go forward in accordance with the provisions of the US Constitution.

It seems unlikely that Trump will be convicted in the Senate, no matter how convincing the case for impeachment might be. The people presenting evidence and arguments in favor of impeachment know that. They’re doing it anyway, not to score partisan points — this is a fight they will almost surely lose — but because of the clear necessity of holding accountable a man who was until a few weeks ago the most powerful person in the world, who abused his office, and who may have permanently undermined a generation of Americans’ faith in our free and fair elections. Their sense of duty is palpable, while their opponents appear angry that they even have to show up.

That’s what is at stake: duty over unvarnished self-interest. Consequences for bad acts over impunity. A restoration of trust over an acquiescence to a new normal of dangerous conspiracy-mongering. Only one side made a legally coherent and morally upright case Tuesday. And the fact that they are unlikely to win suggests that the lessons of the Capitol riot haven’t been learned by most of the GOP — or are being actively, disastrously disregarded.

2021-02-09 21:41:40

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