The Republican Party has devised its response to the push to impeach the president over his role in the attack on the Capitol last week, and it is so cynical as to shock the conscience.
“Now the Democrats are going to try to remove the president from office just seven days before he is set to leave anyway,” said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who voted with 146 other Republicans in Congress not to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election. “I do not see how this unifies the country.”
The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, also said that impeaching the president “will only divide our country more.”
“As leaders, we must call on our better angels and refocus our efforts on working directly for the American people,” McCarthy said in a statement given two days after he also voted not to accept the results of a free and fair election in which his favored candidate lost.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas helped lead the Senate attempt to object to Joe Biden’s victory. “My view is Congress should fulfill our responsibility under the Constitution to consider serious claims of voter fraud,” he said last Monday. Now, he too wants unity. “The attack at the Capitol was a despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system,” he said in the aftermath of the violence, as calls to impeach the president grew louder and louder. “We must come together and put this anger and division behind us.”
I’m reminded, here, of one particular passage from Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 address at Cooper Union in Manhattan, in which he criticized the political brinkmanship of Southern elites who blamed their Northern opponents for their own threats to break the union over slavery.
“But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'”
There are a handful of Senate Republicans, like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who are open to impeachment. But much of the Republican response is exactly this kind of threat: If you hold President Donald Trump accountable for his actions, then we won’t help you unify the country.
Or, as another Republican, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, said on Twitter, “Those calling for impeachment or invoking the 25th Amendment in response to President Trump’s rhetoric this week are themselves engaging in intemperate and inflammatory language and calling for action that is equally irresponsible and could well incite further violence.”
These cries of divisiveness aren’t just the crocodile tears of bad-faith actors. They serve a purpose, which is to preemptively blame Democrats for the Republican partisan rancor that will follow after Joe Biden is inaugurated next week. It is another way of saying that they, meaning Democrats, shot first, so we, meaning Republicans, are absolved of any responsibility for our actions. If Democrats want some semblance of normalcy — if they want to be able to govern — then the price for Republicans is impunity for Trump.
House Democrats have already introduced their resolution to impeach the president, formally charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the attack on the Capitol. There is still a ways to go in this process, but it is a stronger start than I expected. But there may still be some hesitation about taking the most aggressive stance, as evidenced by Majority Whip James Clyburn’s proposal to hold off on a trial until after the first 100 days of the Biden administration.
This would be a mistake.
There is no way past this crisis — and yes, we are living through a crisis — except through it. The best way to push forward is as aggressively as possible. Anything less sends the signal that this moment isn’t as urgent as it actually is. And as we move closer to consequences for those responsible, we should continue to ignore the cries that accountability is “divisive.” Not because they’re false, but because they’re true.
Accountability is divisive. That’s the point. If there is a faction of the Republican Party that sees democracy itself as a threat to its power and influence, then it has to be cut off from the body politic. It needs to be divided from the rest of us, lest it threaten the integrity of the American republic more than it already has. Marginalizing that faction — casting Trump and Trumpism into the ash heap of history — will be divisive, but it is the only choice we have.
This does not mean we must cast out the 74 million Americans who voted for the president, but it does mean we must repudiate the lies, cruelty and cult of personality on which Trump built his movement. It means Republicans have to acknowledge the truth — that Joe Biden won in a free and fair election — and apologize to their voters and to the country for helping to stoke the madness that struck at the Capitol.
The alternative is a false unity that leaves the wound of last Wednesday to fester until the infection gets even worse than it already is.