In 2017, a handful of individuals were arrested in the Hart Senate Office Building for reading scripture aloud. They were protesting the GOP-backed tax bill, which they felt was unfair to the poor. They engaged in peaceful civil disobedience, and they paid the price of arrest.
Last month, thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol carrying bats, nooses, and Zip Tie handcuffs. They were there to stop the transfer of power from one president to the next. They assaulted Capitol Police, broke doors and windows, ransacked offices and hallways, and hunted for lawmakers who were poised to certify Joe Biden’s win. This violent mob ultimately left three officers dead and at least 134 injured. Will those who instigated and participated pay a price?
Governance “by and for the people” coupled with “the rule of law” are what separate democracies from dictatorships. Americans love to proclaim that no one is above the law, but Republican legislators have shown this to be more brag than fact. This was most evident in their refusal to hold Trump accountable for his criminal conduct before, during, and after Impeachment #1. Instead of learning his lesson, as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) incorrectly predicted, Trump became increasingly brazen in his corruption.
Even before the election, Trump and his backers started throwing spaghetti at the wall. Repeated often enough, the lie about voter fraud just might stick. After he lost, they filed 62 lawsuits, 61 of which were dismissed by state and federal judges, including Trump appointees. They demanded recounts, all of which upheld Biden’s win.
In a phone call that was recorded (whoops), Trump pressured Georgia’s top election officials to flip 11,780 votes. He tried to get state legislators to intervene. And then, with time running out, Trump invited his disciples to the White House and whipped them into a frenzy.
“We will never give up. We will never concede,” he told them. “We will stop the steal.”
Trump urged them to stage an insurrection. In footage of the ensuing carnage, rioters screamed that Trump had sent them. Yep, he gave them their marching orders. But instead of leading the charge as he said he would do, Trump stayed behind to watch it unfold on TV (imagine that) and to petition Republican senators to delay the count of Electoral College votes. Having organized the coup, he did nothing to stop it and resisted sending in the National Guard.
Meanwhile, elected lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence barely escaped with their lives.
Trump and his rioters committed treason, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and other legislators who perpetuated The Big Lie are also guilty of treason. Words have consequences, and actions do too – in countries that uphold the rule of law.
It is not an overstatement to say that the future of the United States lies in the hands of Senate Republicans. Might they finally put the Constitution and their country above political self-preservation? Pundits aren’t betting on it, pointing to Republicans in the House who voted not to certify Biden’s win just hours after the attempted coup.
Will Republican senators prove Trump right when he stated that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone” and get away with it? Or will they apply the system of checks and balances they inherited from our Founding Fathers? If they don’t, what will prevent future presidents from abusing the power and privilege of their office? Trump remains a danger because of his insatiable need for applause, wealth, and absolute authority; conviction would keep him out of public office. It would prove that ours is a true democracy, based on equality and accountability.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, one of the clergy arrested for reading Bible passages aloud in 2017, wrote last year that we are in a “Bonhoeffer moment.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a young German pastor who opposed the Nazi movement and paid with his life in a concentration camp.
Is our democracy destined to fail because of apathy and the surrender of our values? Or was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman correct when he testified, during Trump’s first impeachment, that in America, “right matters?” What kind of society do Americans really want, and what are ordinary citizens willing to do to protect it? Although U.S. senators are jurors in the upcoming trial, their constituents need to weigh in. We, the people, must decide.
Erin McKay is a resident of Cortez.