The circus is coming to Washington, D.C. this week in the form of another Senate show-trial in the wake of another dubious impeachment of now-former President Donald Trump. No doubt, the proceedings will be entertaining and, after all, Congress appears not much good for anything else, so if it succeeds in entertaining the people, then at least there is some small justification for living large off of the people’s money.
What can we expect from the proceedings, likely to last four to five days? Will Democrats take a measured, rational approach and lay out a compelling case for conviction? Will the 45th president’s attorneys manage to sway any Democrat to acquit? Will there be a halftime show musical extravaganza? Will the trial itself, once it is over, leave any significant impact on American politics? The likely answer to all these questions is no.
The most significant question, of course: will Donald Trump be convicted? The answer to that one is also likely no.
So what of the Democrats’ strategy? None of the January 6 demonstrators themselves – or as the leftist media refer to them, “rioters” – are credible witnesses for the prosecution. Any of them who are facing potential charges and are called to testify are, of course, going to claim that they were incited rather than take responsibility for their own decisions on that day.
Additionally, any of Trump’s enemies in Congress who had entertained the hope that he would walk into a perjury trap by agreeing to their request that he testify were sorely disappointed. Mr. Trump’s attorneys dismissed the request with derision.
More than likely, the impeachment managers will trot out a handful of representatives from their own party to give harrowing and emotional accounts of how terrified they were, trapped in the chamber that day, as the bloodthirsty mob descended upon them. Perhaps even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) will describe how she was almost killed – even though she was in another building at the time and likely only saw any of the demonstrators if she had looked out of the window.
The House Impeachment Managers will argue that then-President Trump incited the riot, which culminated in a breach of the Capitol building by a small number of protesters. Further, the managers will contend that Trump took no action to rein in his supporters once the situation started to get heated. They are likely to play the Senate a carefully edited video montage, intertwining parts of Trump’s speech to his supporters on that day with footage of certain individuals breaking their way into the Capitol Building through windows and doors.
Will the part where he urged the crowd to “peacefully and patriotically” make their voices heard be omitted?
Trump’s attorneys will argue that the trial itself is unconstitutional because their client no longer holds public office. While it is true that a few former public officials have been tried in the Senate, there is an adage that two wrongs don’t make a right. After all, the Constitution is pretty clear on this matter: impeachment is an instrument designed to remove from office somebody found guilty of treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. There is no provision in Article I for trying, in the Senate, a private citizen.
Reportedly, the defense will argue that Trump’s words on that day to his supporters are protected by the First Amendment. The 45th president’s critics counter that his speech was not protected because he was inciting violence or insurrection. The defense may show video of some of the many times Democrat politicians have used language that more directly appears to incite, encourage, or condone violence than anything Trump said on January 6.
Be Careful What You Say
Unfortunately for Democrats, a great many prominent members of their own party are on record using what can fairly be described as incendiary language. Whether it was Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) encouraging people to physically confront members of the former Trump administration or Kamala Harris and others cheering on the leftist mobs that looted and burned their way through several American cities during the summer of 2020, Democrats are guilty of exactly that for which they impeached Trump in January.
If the Democrats’ fundamental argument is that those who use fiery language should be held accountable for the physical actions of others, then they will be convicting themselves in the court of public opinion.
When this spectacle is concluded, Trump may well have the opportunity to take a victory lap. In contrast, Democrats might have to deal with the embarrassment of their pursuit of the former president failing once again.
What of a future Democratic president who governs alongside a Republican-controlled Congress while left-wing extremists are rampaging through the streets? Perhaps that individual will have to choose his or her words very carefully.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.