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Steve Chapman: Trump and His Allies Have Damaged Our Democracy

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Steve Chapman is a member of the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune. He wrote here what I was thinking. Trump did profound damage to our democracy, and a majority of Republicans endorsed his vicious attack on our Capitol and on democracy itself. He spent months complaining that the Presidential election was “rigged,” unless he won, in which case it would be valid. When he lost the election decisively, he refused to concede and launched a barrage of lawsuits, all claiming “voter fraud.” His lawyers never produced any proof of fraud, his obeisance Attorney General told him there was not enough fraud to change the outcome of the election, his director of election cyber security told him the election was fair (and was fired for it). YetTrump and his lackeys continued to rage about fraud, even though all his lawsuits were thrown out. He couldn’t even get a win from judges he appointed, which baffled him. Unwilling to admit defeat, he summoned his MAGA followers to DC on January 6, promising them a “wild” day.

Wild, it was, beginning with an incendiary 70-minute speech by Trump, urging the mob to March on the Capitol and “fight like hell” or lose their country. They did as he instructed. They broke through police lines. They were enraged and violent, beating the po’ice who tried to keep them out of the Capitol, which had not been invaded since the war of 1812. They sacked and ransacked the Capitol, while members of Congress, assembled to certify Joe Biden’s election, were hurriedly evacuated. There were only minutes between the physical evacuation of the legislators and the rush of the mob into their chambers. We can only speculate what would have happened if they had seized Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and other members of Congress. It might have been a bloody massacre. Trump watched the horror on television and did nothing to call off his followers. How close we came to a violent coup!

The whole world was watching as our democracy hung in the balance.

Was Donald Trump responsible? Of course he was. Mitch McConnell admitted as much after he voted to acquit him because he was a “private citizen.” This is the same McConnell who refused to start the trial while Trump was still in office.

The seven Republicans who voted to defend our democracy instead of licking Trump’s soiled boots deserve our thanks: Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Some of them, like Liz Cheney of Wyoming, were condemned by the leaders of their state Republican Party, for daring to defend the Constitution and their oath of office.

This is what Steve Chapman wrote (in part):

One of the most familiar lessons of the Donald Trump era is that no matter how bad today is, tomorrow can always be worse. We learned over and over that there is no bottom to his capacity for outrageous conduct, and there is no limit to his party’s tolerance for it.

Jan. 6 was one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the American republic. An incumbent president who had decisively lost his reelection roused his deranged disciples to launch a massive attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to keep him in office. It was an attempted coup, nothing less. Lives were lost, members of Congress and their aides were traumatized, and the president who instigated the attack took pleasure in it.

But Saturday’s Senate vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial was worse. Forty-three duly elected representatives of the people of their states chose to ignore or rationalize his shocking blitzkrieg. They repudiated their sworn duty to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

No American president has been so openly contemptuous of the constraints of the Constitution as Trump. He decided long ago to treat any defeat at the polls as the result of fraud, regardless of the reality. If the democratic processes of our system did not give him what he wanted, he would wage war on them. And he did — starting months before Americans went to the polls and continuing for months afterward.

Any elected government can be hijacked by a skilled and ruthless demagogue. But in the design of our system, Congress is supposed to serve as a counterweight to the president, jealous of its prerogatives and independent of the executive branch. The impeachment power is the ultimate check, allowing legislators to remove any president who abuses his office.

But the impeachment power now has about as much importance as the Third Amendment — which forbids quartering of soldiers in private homes during peacetime. Trump’s second acquittal leaves no doubt that for most Republican members of Congress, party comes before country, now and forever...

Congressional Republicans, with a handful of noble exceptions, are more than willing to excuse the inexcusable if it comes from a president who shares their partisan affiliation. Maybe they are afraid of the political consequences they would face for breaking with Trump. Maybe they think what he did to advance the GOP agenda — tax cuts, deregulation, conservative judges — is bigger than what he did to sabotage constitutional government.

Maybe some even relish the idea of right-wing extremists terrorizing elected officials to advance Republican policies. Whatever the motive, the damage is deep and possibly irreparable.

The danger produced by this dismal outcome is not so much that Trump will run again in 2024. Chances are good that by then, he will be indicted and convicted for at least one felony, whether for tax evasion, campaign finance violations, solicitation of election fraud or other crimes. He would have trouble running for president from a correctional institution. Likewise if he decides to flee to a country that has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

The real significance of the Senate’s refusal to convict Trump is that it normalizes behavior that once would have been anathema to either political party. It assures his followers that he did nothing wrong. It eats away at the foundation of our form of government. It invites a future Republican president — shrewder and more disciplined than Trump — to install himself permanently in the White House.

It may sound impossible in a republic as long-lasting and resilient as ours. But since Jan. 6, a lot of things that seemed impossible have come to pass. And they have inflicted a wound on our democracy that may never heal.

Donald Trump should face the full force of the law for his multiple crimes. He may be convicted for interfering with the election in Georgia, for tax evasion in New York, or for many other crimes. But he escaped punishment for violating his oath of office and unleashing a blood-thirsty mob on his Vice-President and the members of Congress, a crime that sits at the feet of the 43 senators too spineless to hold him accountable.

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