On Friday, February 12, former President Donald Trump’s attorneys took to the Senate floor to rebuff Democrat claims that he had incited what his political enemies have described as an insurrection on January 6 in Washington DC. The defense made its case – and did so effectively – in less than three hours. Indeed, the charge against Trump was so weak that the 16 hours allotted to the defense was entirely unnecessary. No punches were pulled as impeachment managers and Democrat senators were presented a record of their own hypocrisy and deceit in their dealings with the president they so despised.
Perhaps knowing that the facts simply were not on their side, the House impeachment managers had, time and again, returned to the subject of the 45th president’s language. It was as if they had hoped to persuade a sufficient number of senators to ignore the absence of such trifles as witness testimony and factual evidence and instead convict Trump because it was safe to assume that he had wanted to incite a violent confrontation with Congress.
A Lesson in Words and Context
Specifically, Democrats have focused on the former president telling his supporters on January 6 that they would have to “fight like hell” to save their country. In the same speech, Trump said, at one point: “And you have to get your people to fight.” The impeachment managers presented that quote out of context – deliberately, of course – to imply that the president had been instructing those in the crowd to encourage each other to literally, physically fight. Trump’s attorneys played a video clip of that part of the speech: “And you have to get your people to fight. And if they don’t fight, we have to primary the hell out of the ones that don’t fight.”
Clearly, then – and beyond any question – Trump was referring to elected senators and representatives. Those were the people that must be encouraged to fight and should be replaced if they would not do so.
The prosecution had to endure a lengthy video montage of numerous prominent Democrats – Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris among them, but alongside many more – using similar language, specifically word such as “fight,” “fighting,” and “battle.”
The point being, of course, that this is typical political rhetoric. No sane person believes that when a politician tells his or her supporters to “fight,” that the intention is to stir them to violence. The shaming by video did not end there, though. Senator Tim Kaine and Representative Joaquin Castro, both Democrats (and Castro is one of the impeachment managers) were both featured in the montage, talking about fighting “in the streets,” which, one could argue, is a much more unambiguous call for political violence. But it got even more embarrassing for Democrats – or would have if they had any sense of self-awareness.Chuck Schumer
A number of the video clips presented featured various Democrats speaking very directly about physical violence against or confrontation with then-President Donald Trump himself and members of his administration. Still more clips featured some of the former president’s most vocal critics either encouraging or at least condoning some level of civil unrest.
Among those clips was Kamala Harris, enthusiastically explaining that the 2020 riots by left-wing extremist groups were not going to stop even after the election. In another, Nancy Pelosi said: “I just don’t even know why there aren’t uprisings all over the country – and maybe there will be… ” In yet another, CNN host Chris Cuomo demands: “Show me where it says protests are supposed to be polite and peaceful.” Then, of course, there was the video of Chuck Schumer directly threatening Supreme Court Justices.
Can it fairly be argued that none of the Democrat politicians featured in this video presentation deserved to be judged on words taken out of context? Of course, it can – but the same applies to Donald Trump.
An Ill-Conceived Effort
The defense made the point – perhaps belabored it – that Democrats have spent the past four years demanding, or, at the very least, implying, that physical violence and civil unrest is justified, to change political outcomes. To convict Trump for allegedly doing the same is quite beyond the pale.
Without a doubt, the defense’s presentation was an unmitigated shaming of Trump’s enemies, using their own words. Perhaps the one element missing, as law professor Alan Dershowitz pointed out, was a constitutional appeal to the senators: firstly, that they lack jurisdiction to convict a private citizen and, secondly, that the First Amendment protects Trump’s January 6 speech.
Then again, perhaps whatever shortcomings existed in the defense are moot. Barring some astounding turn of events, Democrats will not have the votes necessary to convict Trump, and so the entire exercise was a pointless one, except for its usefulness as a fundraising tool. Maybe future Congresses will remember that ill-conceived and falsely-premised impeachments born out of personal and political animus serve no constructive purpose for the country and are doomed to fail.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.