No Trump; No Regrets
Missing from the Senate’s impeachment trial yesterday was any sense of remorse from Donald Trump or any meaningful denunciation of violence undertaken on his behalf.
We came away with a rumbling anger over the path on which House prosecutors led us in re-watching the wrenching events of the Jan. 6 Trump mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.
As prosecutors laid the timeline of election fraud obsession that led to this ultimate attack on democracy questions hung in the air:
- Where was the effort to stop it all?
- Where was Donald Trump to say he was sorry?
- Why did Trump insist that he loved the rioters?
Prosecutors continued to build a persuasive case that Trump had developed a pattern, a multi-pronged campaign. He used court and state challenges, the White House bully pulpit, Twitter, surrogates and a team of like-minded supporters that reached from Congress to local militias.
It all led inexorably to the attack on the Capitol.
Compelling arguments again led only to this question: If Trump didn’t endorse the riots, why did he not deploy the National Guard? He didn’t. He deserves conviction.
Even after the trial’s opening day, Trump himself, watching from Mar-a-Lago, fumed not about the riots, but about the ruinously random performance of his attorneys.
That’s not remorse — the one element that would make the seemingly inevitable result of intransigence by Republican senators feel more palatable.
Though the Senate is known for its love of oration, prosecutors continued to make their point through video and social media posts. First, they have hours of it, some not seen before. Secondly, video is effective – if Republican senators bother to raise their eyes to look at it. And third, video and social media have been the exact tools of Trump – and the promotion of the Stop-the-Steal campaign.
The challenge that prosecutors faced: Using that video and social media to conclusively link Trump’s words and action to the actual rioting.
The arguments — more than a bit anti-Trump tinged at times — that argued Trump had “summoned, assembled and incited” walked through months of evidence. Speeches, tweets, court challenges and acts to undercut state elections with the singular focus on stopping certification of Electoral College results were recalled. And there were references to pouring money toward a huge gathering in Washington on Jan. 6.
Managers took turns tracing posts, rally calls, intimidation attempts and coordination with supremacist groups like Proud Boys to build toward the events of the Jan. 6 riot. They described the rallying of Trump’s responsive “calvary” to target the Capitol.
There were a lot of references from Trump’s supporters talking of fighting, combat and all-out war on anyone opposing Trump, Democrat or Republican. There was a particular note that Trump did nothing to intervene, even after televised threats to hunt Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others as well as attacks on the Capitol police.
Interspersing Trump promises of a “wild time” in Washington on Jan. 6 with actual video of the results proved effective. Reports said that Trump watched it all on television, taking glee that people were fighting on his behalf, and doing nothing to stop it were bracing all over again. Quotes, tweets and clips showed rioters saying they had acted at Trump’s behest. Former White House personnel said that Trump knew all along to whom he was speaking.
As predicted, the video presentations of the attack itself were both emotional and damning. To the point, however, it was impossible not to follow the prosecution argument that this was the logical outcome of the Trump-obsessed campaign to overturn democracy.
Prosecutors may not have persuaded enough recalcitrant Trump-supporting senators to vote their way. But they certainly showed that Trump had not just offered a free speech opinion or two, but rather was deep in the calls that led to the day of insurrection.
That’s the opposite of remorse.
What of a Defense?
As we all have heard by now, the Trump defense, which will follow, however limp, is based on two thoughts:
- The trial should not take place because Trump is out of office
- Whatever Trump or his teammates said was “free speech,” even if the rest of us don’t believe it.
To the first, the Senate voted that the trial could proceed; to the second, the defense seems to have no interest in looking at actual actions, just relying on the bromide that the literal words from.Trump in the hour before the riot were not literal incitement.
Of course, as the prosecution was arguing, there were three months or more of actions here that created a pattern:
- Trump insistence there was election fraud
- Endorsement of outbreaks of intimidation or violence underscoring the perceived campaign to steal the election from Trump’s 74 million voters – without noting that total was fewer than Joe Biden’s 82 million.
Pressure included working to get state legislatures to squash popular vote totals from cities with sizable Black populations and, likely illegal, taped attempts to interfere with George election officials to “find” sufficient votes to overturn that state’s results.
Still, a sufficient number of Republican senators are standing pat on opposing conviction. This is about politics, of course, not justice or public accounting or anything about the defense of democratic values. Comments from a few of the stalwart Republicans, including Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND, even suggested that they would prefer that Trump face possible criminal charges as a private citizen than impeachment as a former president.
Not that I disagree, but Statement One in such a proceeding would be a claim by Trump that he was president at the time, immune from federal charges.
We may get our chance to find out: Georgia prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the Trump calls to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger toward overturning state results – potential state charges that sidestep the federal shield for the White House.
Meanwhile, the watchdog group OpenSecrets reported finding “more than $3.5 million in direct payments from Trump’s 2020 campaign, along with its joint fundraising committees, to people and firms involved in the Washington, D.C., demonstration before a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.”
As the trial unwinds, just keep listening for anything that sounds like remorse.
Featured image: Delegate Stacey E. Plaskett (D-V.I.), one of the House impeachment managers (Senate TV)