House impeachment managers hung the argument for convicting Donald Trump on a basic premise of the American experiment: that 100 U.S. senators — and 330 million U.S. citizens — have a duty to guard against tyranny.
Not an opportunity, mind you, a duty.
Yet, on Saturday, Wisconsin’s Sen. Ron Johnson joined 42 of his colleagues in rejecting that premise. They voted against holding Trump to account for the high crime of inciting an insurrection that sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The surrender of responsibility by those senators, all Republicans, was sufficient to “acquit” Trump. But their votes did not absolve the most seditious president in American history. He is still guilty. And, now, so too are Johnson and his colleagues.
These Trump-worshiping Republicans who refused to convict the former president sacrificed their patriotic duty for political purposes — either because they shared his neo-fascist sensibilities or because they feared his wrath might dislodge them from their senatorial sinecures. No distinction can, or should, be made between the man who urged a murderous mob to “fight like hell” against the peaceful transfer of power and the senators who sided with him on Saturday.
Just as the seditious Trump must be rejected if he again seeks a position of public trust, the members of the Senate’s "sedition caucus" must face the wrath of the voters — beginning in 2022.
The next round of Senate elections will, necessarily, focus on addressing the social, economic and racial challenges that were exacerbated by Trump’s failed presidency. But they must also feature an accountability component. Instead of “moving on,” instead of “forgiving and forgetting,” voters should hold the seditious senators to account.
As many as 15 of the 43 Republicans who sided with Trump will be on the ballot in 2022. At the top of the list of seditious senators who can and should be defeated is Johnson, should he abandon his pledge to not seek reelection in 2022. Like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — both of who are serving terms that run through the 2024 election — the Wisconsinite positioned himself during the impeachment trial as a belligerent, and frequently delusional, Trump loyalist.
On Saturday, Johnson yelled at a fellow Republican, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, for voting to hear witnesses. Johnson complained that hearing the facts would only “inflame the situation,” and told reporters, “We never should have had this impeachment trial. It's just like opening up a wound and just rubbing salt in it.”
Why was Johnson so upset? Because an honest examination of Trump’s guilt would also shed light on his own culpability for what happened on Jan. 6. In December, when he still chaired the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Johnson fed the hysteria that culminated in the attack on the Capitol by organizing a hearing that entertained the most outrageous of the lies Trump was promoting with regard to the election.
Since then, Johnson has continued to peddle conspiracy theories — speculating before the trial that Democrats were impeaching Trump in order to divert attention from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s supposed “blame” for the deadly riot, and arguing that the events of Jan. 6 "didn't seem like an armed insurrection" to him. The senator offered no evidence to support his claim about the California Democrat, who was a target of the insurrectionists. Yet, he asked, “Is this another diversionary operation? Is this meant to deflect away from potentially what the speaker knew and when she knew it?” A breathless Johnson concluded, “I don’t know, but I’m suspicious.”
What was suspicious was the senator’s ludicrous speculation. The same could be said for his claim that the Democrats were guilty of mounting a “vindictive and divisive political impeachment” that got in the way of “healing.” By Johnson’s standard, no political figure would ever be held to account — not even for inciting deadly violence.
This is a fundamental rejection of the essential calculus of the Constitution.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, laid that calculus out during the impeachment trial, when he noted that, “Our framers were so fearful of presidents becoming tyrants and wanting to become kings that they put the oath of office into the Constitution. They inscribed it into the Constitution to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the Constitution of the United States.”
While the founders hoped that the oath would inspire honorable leaders to “faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Raskin explained, they were not so naïve as to imagine a future in which only the honorable would occupy the Oval Office. So they awarded policing authority to Congress.
“We’ve got the power to impeach the president, but the president doesn’t have the power to impeach us. Think about that. The popular branch of government has the power to impeach the president; the president does not have the power to impeach us,” Raskin said. “All of us who aspire and attain a public office are nothing but the servants of the people. And the way the framers would have it is: the moment that (presidents) no longer act as servants of the people but as masters of the people, as violators of the people’s rights, that is the time to impeach, remove, convict, disqualify, start all over again. Because the interests of the people are so much greater than the interests of one person, any one person, even the greatest person in the country. The interests of the people are what count.”
Forty-three Republicans rejected this sacred equation in order to serve Donald Trump. They saved Trump from accountability. But accountability is still needed. It is, as well, still possible — if the people’s votes count against Ron Johnson and the other disgraceful members of the Republican sedition caucus.
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