There was palpable relief in Washington as the Trump process came to a messy but definitive end. The verdict has been reached and the slander can begin. Both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi immediately armed the verdict and demonized those who voted for the acquittal. While the Democrats insisted that all senators should “choose their conscience,” it only meant if their conscience supported their side. Pelosi denounced opposing senators as cowards, while Schumer beat them up for having a contrary view of the evidence or the trial. As groups engage with members on both sides of the process, our leaders should call for unity and courtesy after the process. Instead, they fuel the politics of division.
CNN and other media followed suit. While McConnell denounced Trump, saying he could still be held accountable for crimes, CNN hosts Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash immediately followed up his speech by denouncing him as hypocritical. There was nothing hypocritical about denouncing Trump’s behavior as “irresponsible” while claiming that the process was unconstitutional. What Democratic members and commentators would not accept is that everyone could have opposing views on these issues and could not be a shill or a coward. Welcome to unity in 2021. Unity remains on our terms or otherwise. That “or else” was made clear to Trump’s defense attorney shortly after the verdict. Attorney Michael Van der Veen’s house was destroyed. Other lawyers have been harassed and threatened after campaigns by groups such as The Lincoln Project for representing Trump or Republicans.
The media quickly reiterated its rejection of any possibility for senators to choose their conscience. CNN reporter Abby Phillip stated as a fact that there is no real argument that a former president cannot be impeached. Hence any vote on this basis was dishonest and astute. As with reporting in the past, the hosts simply ignored professors, judges, and legendary figures like Justice Joseph Story who have spoken out against retrospective lawsuits. In addition, many scientists who have studied this topic (including myself) have said that it is extremely tight. While we have all reached conclusions, most of us have stated that in good faith people cannot agree on where the standard on the issue should be. However, this was not told to CNN viewers. Phillip and her colleagues insisted there was no real debate – as did the property managers. Hence, anyone who votes with the view of people like Justice Story is liars or cowards or lying cowards. You choose.
The anger such numbers expressed diverted attention from those who were most responsible for the loss of this process: the leadership of the house. As I discussed earlier, there was no suggestion of a condemnation versus anger strategy in this process. First, the House leadership took advantage of a “hasty impeachment” without a day for hearings. The house was open Jan. 6-20 (as there was little chance of trial in the Senate before Trump stepped down). At least it could have taken a few days for a record to be made. Instead, she decided to send out an impeachment notice for the first time in history with no hearing, investigation, or even an opportunity for Trump to respond being recorded.
Second, she wrote an impeachment article for “Incitement to Insurrection” – a poorly conceived article that virtually guaranteed loss. It could have written the article in a variety of ways to gain wider support, but the House leadership wanted to accuse Trump of trying to spark a rebellion against the United States. After all, it could have called witnesses for four weeks to testify about Trump’s state of mind, a dozen witnesses who were able to determine what Trump said and did during those critical hours. It refused to do so.
The incoherence of the House case became apparent in the past few hours when senior house manager Jamie Raskin messed up the process by calling witnesses just before closing the arguments. The Senate had reportedly decided against this option, but Raskin stood up, claiming, like a scene from Perry Mason, that a new witness had appeared the night before: Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler (R-WA). Raskin breathlessly described how the House was watching news that Beutler had information about a call between Trump and the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), in which Trump showed support for the rioters. The problem is that the claim didn’t seem to be true. Beutler’s report was public before the trial began, and the McCarthy call was known to the House for over four weeks. The request only highlighted the failure of Raskin and the House to call a single witness in the House to this and other reports for four weeks.
The Senate Democrats, however, couldn’t risk the wrath of their base if they defied the property managers. They had to follow Raskin over the cliff. Commenting on the Raskin’s request live, I noticed that he had clearly taken the Senators by surprise and that these are politicians who are risky and likely not to go down the path of the unknown with Raskin. There’s a reason the house was shy about calling witnesses who may also show that the house was warned of the prospect of violence, rejected National Guard forces, and negligently handled the riot. Witnesses would also highlight the House’s failure to call such witnesses for a month. Finally, some of these statements may not support the House’s suggestion that Trump delay managerial deployment of troops or other parts of the unchallenged narrative.
The result was as incoherent as Raskin’s argument. As expected, they reversed the vote by pretending to be supporting the property managers. They agreed to a provision so absurd that it just lacked the necessary joke drum beat. Raskin had already described Beutler’s report in his remarks. However, the Senate had him agree to a provision to re-describe the call and then drop his request. It has been specified that a piece of hearsay previously discussed in the recording can be included in the recording. To get even more absurd, the statement quoted Beutler as saying that they had previously discussed the call publicly – which Raskin directly refuted to the Senate. Remember, Raskin had just claimed that this was new evidence from “last night” and that the Senate must now call witnesses to this “additional piece of critical evidence that further corroborates the allegations.”
He then read the following to the Senate von Beutler: “I have shared these details in countless conversations with constituents and colleagues and on multiple occasions in the media and other public forums. I told the Longview Daily News on January 17th. I shared it with members of the county Republican Executive Board and other voters who asked me to explain my vote. I shared it with thousands of residents on my phone town hall on February 8th. “It was new evidence that she shared with thousands of public statements over the weeks?
None of this matters, of course, as the House has never shown any intention of establishing Trump’s state of mind or even asserting itself in the process. The real purpose was made clear by Schumer and Pelosi within minutes of the verdict. A good faith vote would only be allowed if she had voted for her position. While the House Republicans refused to punish MP Lynn Cheney for her indictment, Schumer and others are only willing to accept such a vote of conscience in their favor. Taking a contrary view has been pronounced not only by the democratic leadership but also by the media as cowardly cowardice or virtual betrayal. It’s exactly the kind of rhetoric and misrepresentation by Trump that many of us have denounced over the past four years. There is no room for disagreement; only patriots and traitors.
And so the age of anger will not go on because it has to, but because we love it.