President Donald Trump thought denying the outcome of November’s election might save his political career, but in fact, it almost certainly hastened its end. Two months of relentless talk of a “stolen election” didn’t simply make him look like a sore loser — they spurred his supporters to seize the Capitol last Wednesday, leading to five deaths. Any argument that these were patriots was put to rest by images of the mob grappling with police and carting off stolen property while reportedly smearing feces inside hallways.
Seeking vengeance isn’t going to help America heal — or force those behind Wednesday’s outrageous events to take responsibility for their actions.
America was aghast, not just at the act but that the president himself created the potential for this disaster. Trump had teased the idea of announcing a 2024 presidential run on Jan. 20, the day Joe Biden is inaugurated, but that’s now unlikely: Trump’s political career is over. Even many die-hard supporters were horrified at the happenings of Jan. 6 and put some blame on him; plenty of Republican politicians without his baggage will aggressively pursue his base and have the standing to do so.
But that’s not enough for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. On Monday, Democrats submitted a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to activate the 25th Amendment to declare the president “incapable of executing the duties of his office,” and making Pence acting president. Republicans are pushing back, so Pelosi also introduced an article of impeachment.
Neither idea is a good one. American democracy has survived nearly four years of Trump; it can survive nine days more. There’s understandably a desire to punish Trump for his shocking (but not surprising) behavior in riling up an already angry crowd headed to the Capitol. But that’s not what these constitutional remedies were designed to do. Using them for vengeance makes a mockery of them. And seeking vengeance isn’t going to help America heal — or force those behind Wednesday’s outrageous events to take responsibility for their actions.
“I like the 25th Amendment because it gets rid of him. He’s out of office,” Pelosi told CBS’s “60 Minutes” on Sunday night. But one can’t use the amendment’s weighty provisions to get rid of a president merely because he’s a bad actor. The amendment, per its text, can be used only if the president “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Trump is certainly able to; he just hasn’t done a good job of it at times, as has been true of many previous Oval Office occupants.
While Democrats claim Trump is guilty of “incitement of insurrection” on Jan. 6, an improper invocation of the 25th would be an actual coup attempt, i.e., an unconstitutional bid to seize governmental power. Pelosi’s call to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Friday asking him what precautions were being taken to protect the nation’s nuclear launch codes from an “unstable president” could be seen as veering awfully close to one, too.
Trump showed no shrewdness in denying that he lost the election, and he helped create the conditions that led to the events of Jan. 6. But he did not call for a coup, nor did he tell his supporters to invade the home of the legislative branch. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” he told a rally of his supporters before the melee started. “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
Clearly, many of them had other plans and weren’t pushed into committing violent rebellion in the heat of the moment. Video shows one now-infamous rioter, since arrested in Tennessee, wearing black tactical gear and carrying disposable restraints. Law enforcement also found firearms and explosive devices. Several Trump supporters came to Washington determined to cause chaos before they heard the president speak that day — yet the Democrats plan to use that speech as a “central focus,” as The New York Times says, of their campaign to remove him from office.
Meanwhile, Democrats never even censured those in their own party who encouraged lawlessness last year. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris urged people to donate to post bail for those arrested after protests and riots in Minneapolis, for example. Mobs should not be emboldened no matter their politics.
The letter Pelosi sent her colleagues Sunday night says Democrats “will act with urgency,” because Trump is “an imminent threat” to “our Constitution and our Democracy.” But in fact, Democrats don’t necessarily plan to “act with urgency.” The Senate won’t reconvene until Jan. 19, so it won’t take up any House-passed impeachment before then.
And Democrats might not even send articles to the Senate right after they’re passed. House Democratic Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina doesn’t want a Senate impeachment trial to interfere with confirming Biden’s Cabinet or passing priority legislation. Biden himself isn’t even pushing for impeachment. Furthermore, Democrats know impeachment won’t stop Trump’s bad behavior as president — because he’ll be out of office before he can be impeached.
Impeachment isn’t meant to be virtue signaling, but that’s how Democrats are treating it. They’re not trying to restrain Trump during his remaining days in office; they’re trying to ensure he never serves in office again. But that’s not up to them — it’s up to the American people.
While invoking the 25th Amendment or impeaching Trump again will have little practical benefit, it will have the major detriment of creating even greater suspicion among the more than 74 million people who voted for Trump’s re-election. Many Trump supporters feel that elites have sought to remove Trump from the get-go. Indeed, Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans have discussed using impeachment or the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from the White House before he was even elected to it.
Why pour more fuel on the fire of resentment? Almost half of voters don’t believe Biden won fairly, according to a Rasmussen poll. Trump was defeated, but the division in America certainly hasn’t been.
Democrats — and many Republicans — have made it clear they want Trump to disappear from public life forever. They don’t need to abuse the Constitution to ensure it. Let Trump leave in ignominy, which will happen on Jan. 20 even if Democrats do nothing. The country will move forward under a new president who then won’t have to start his term under the shadow of his predecessor.