Opinion | Will Trump and His Republican Allies Ever Face Consequences?

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On Wednesday, a mob of President Trump’s supporters acting at his behest — some boasting Confederate flags, nooses and a shirt that read “Camp Auschwitz” — launched a destructive assault on the Capitol that led to the police fatally shooting a woman in the halls of Congress. Even before the building was declared secure, the nation’s attention was turning to the question of consequences.

“Historian of coups and right-wing authoritarians here,” wrote Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history at New York University, on Twitter. “If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker & Trump govt official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this ‘strategy of disruption’ will escalate in 2021.”

What should those consequences be? Here’s what people are saying.

The consequences for President Trump

As my colleague Sheera Frenkel reports, calls for violence against elected officials have been circulating online for months, and they have not been limited to Congress: State capitols across the country also faced crowds of armed Trump supporters on Wednesday, in some cases prompting evacuations, shutdowns and police mobilizations.

At the center of the campaign was President Trump, who has courted extremists like QAnon adherents and the Proud Boys in a bid to subvert the election. Politicians and pundits have proposed a few ways of holding him accountable.

The 25th Amendment: The 25th Amendment of the Constitution allows for the removal of the president from office if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet determine that he is unfit. Top congressional Democrats (as well as two law professors in this paper) have called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke it. The option is reportedly being discussed by members of the cabinet and other Republican officials, though skepticism about their sincerity abounds.

Impeachment: Deeming him “too dangerous to leave in office for even another minute,” the Times columnist Bret Stephens argues Congress must immediately impeach and convict Mr. Trump, which could potentially bar him from ever holding office again. Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, on Wednesday said she would introduce articles of impeachment. Though the House adjourned on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi threatened to pursue the measure if Mr. Pence does not invoke the 25th Amendment.

Prosecution: Some have argued that at this point, simply removing Mr. Trump from office would be an insufficient punishment, given that participating in an attempted overthrow of the government is a federal crime. The Times columnist Jamelle Bouie tweeted:

Deplatforming: After the mayhem on Wednesday, the president was suspended from Twitter for 12 hours and from Facebook for at least the next two weeks, but Greg Bensinger argues in The Times that the bans should be permanent. “Jan. 6, 2021, ought to be social media’s day of reckoning,” he writes. “There is a greater calling than profits, and Mr. Zuckerberg and Twitter’s C.E.O., Jack Dorsey, must play a fundamental role in restoring truth and decency to our democracy and democracies around the world.”

The consequences for the Republican Party

Mr. Trump has hardly acted alone in his campaign to overturn the election results: At one point or another, his efforts have enjoyed the support of 14 Republicans in the Senate and a majority of Republicans in the House. After the violence on Wednesday, eight Republican senators and 139 of 211 Republican representatives, including the party leader, still voted against against certifying the election.

One of those eight senators was Ted Cruz of Texas, whose campaign sent out fund-raising messages during the attack to help support the president’s gambit. As the Times editorial board points out, Mr. Cruz has favorably invoked the precedent of the 1876 election, during which Democrats violently suppressed the Black vote and then demanded the end of Reconstruction as their price of concession, plunging the country into a new era of white supremacist terror.

“The modern Republican Party, in its systematic efforts to suppress voting, and its refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of elections that it loses, is similarly seeking to maintain its political power on the basis of disenfranchisement,” the Times editorial board writes. “Wednesday’s insurrection is evidence of an alarming willingness to pursue that goal with violence.” What should be done about it?

Form a third party: “Even if only a small group of principled, center-right lawmakers — and the business leaders who fund them — broke away and formed their own conservative coalition, they would become hugely influential in today’s closely divided Senate,” the Times columnist Tom Friedman writes. “They could be a critical swing faction helping to decide which Biden legislation passes, is moderated or fails.”

Launch financial pressure campaigns: From here on out, Osita Nwanevu argues in The New Republic, companies that support the Republican Party should be subject to boycotts. “A decision was made 10 or 11 years ago that the future of the Republican Party would rest upon delegitimizing or undermining the votes of its opponents,” he writes. “A plan was made; corporations financed it.”

Kick Mr. Trump’s allies out of Congress: Representative Cori Bush of Missouri announced on Wednesday that she would introduce a resolution invoking the 14th Amendment, which disqualifies those who engage in insurrection against the Constitution from holding office, to expel Republican members who have sought to overturn the election. The proposal has drawn support from several other lawmakers.

The consequences for the police

An investigation: The Capitol Police force has 1,879 officers and a budget of $515.5 million, according to Roll Call, but that did not stop the mob from easily overtaking the seat of U.S. government. A number of lawmakers, including Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House financial services committee, have called for a formal investigation of the incident.

D.C. statehood: The District of Columbia’s status as a federal district left officials unable to activate the National Guard. Instead, Mayor Muriel Bowser and members of Congress had to pass the request to the White House, which initially refused on Mr. Trump’s orders. With Democrats now in control of the Senate, it is easier to imagine a congressional vote on the long-debated proposal to grant the district statehood.

A national reckoning over policing: Many have pointed out that the police response to this incident bore little resemblance to the militarized deployments that nonviolent Black Lives Matter protests often meet or the aggressive tactics the Capitol Police itself used on disability activists nonviolently protesting the Republican effort to cut Medicaid funding in 2017. “How many protestors would be dead and/or bleeding had this crowd been Black?” my colleague Brent Staples asked.

The ease with which the Capitol was infiltrated — documented in videos circulating on social media that show officers holding the hand of one member of the mob and taking a selfie with another — have raised questions about not just incompetence or implicit racial bias but also a more profound sort of complicity, if not actual conspiracy.

Masha Gessen argues in The New Yorker that in the most charitable interpretation of the event, the mob at least enjoyed the luxury of not being taken seriously by the police, which is itself a telling privilege: “The invaders may be full of contempt for a system that they think doesn’t represent them, but on Wednesday they managed to prove that it does. The system, which shrugged off their violence like it had been a toddler’s tantrum, represents them. It’s the rest of us it’s failing to protect.”

The consequences for the country

In The Times, Charlie Warzel argues that the storming of the Capitol is best understood not as an isolated event but as the almost inevitable consequence of a far-right assault on the country’s shared reality. “As a reluctant chronicler of our poisoned information ecosystem, to me none of this is very surprising,” he writes. “It is the culmination of more than five years of hatred, trolling, violent harassment and conspiracy theorizing that has moved from the internet’s underbelly to the White House and back again.”

Mr. Warzel notes that while Mr. Trump has played a leading role in the assault, he has been accompanied by professional grifters, political opportunists, genuine marks, social media platforms and pro-Trump outlets like Fox News, which continue to spread conspiratorial lies and dangerous ideologies. To grasp the scale of the problem, consider that polls have found that a large majority of Republicans do not believe Mr. Biden’s victory was legitimate and that more Republicans approved of Wednesday’s rampage than opposed it.

Can the country re-establish a sense of shared reality? “The proposed solutions that I’ve heard include more education on critical thinking, a bigger emphasis on science and empiricism in schools and maybe going back to just three television networks,” the Times columnist Farhad Manjoo says. But, they added, “the problems are so complicated and layered that I am pessimistic about fixing them.”

For it’s one thing to debate the best way to stanch the country’s supply of disinformation, and another to identify and attend to the forces fueling the country’s demand for it.

“Millions of Americans are actively courting conspiracies and violent, radical ideologies in order to make sense of a world they don’t trust,” Mr. Warzel writes. “Our reality crisis is born of selfishness, shamelessness and suffering. It is bone deep. And it will only continue to escalate.”

Do you have a point of view we missed? Email us at [email protected]. Please note your name, age and location in your response, which may be included in the next newsletter.


“The Capitol mob images shouldn’t surprise you. Open insurrection was always where we were headed.” [The Washington Post]

“Business is about accountability, and this sad episode in our nation’s history deserves more of it.” [The New York Times]

“This Is What Trumpism Without Trump Looks Like” [New York Magazine]

“Trump Has Always Been a Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing” [The New York Times]

“It Wasn’t Strictly a Coup Attempt. But It’s Not Over, Either.” [The New York Times]

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