Truth before reconciliation
We’re six days from the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris. The National Guard has assembled in Washington, DC to protect the legislature and to safeguard the top officials in the nation during the inauguration.
Yesterday, the House voted to impeach President Trump for the second time, awarding him half of all impeachments in US history. That was on the back of a takeover of the US Capitol by his followers, aimed at stopping the Constitutional process to certify the legitimate election results for Biden and Harris. That fire was lit by the President that morning, in an incendiary speech to the crowd, but the fuel had been lain by endless lies claiming fraud and theft during the election in the months prior.
So. Lots going on.
The President’s supporters — both the voters in his base, and those in Congress who objected to certification of electoral college votes from some states — insist that they care about election integrity. They object to impeachment as divisive, and urge the Senate and President-Elect Biden to shut down the Senate trial for impeachment.
At this point, there’s no chance whatever that the trial will conclude before President Trump leaves office. His clock runs out at noon on January 20th, Eastern time. Lawyers on Twitter are sparring over whether it’s possible to try a President who’s returned to private life. There are a few non-Presidential impeachment trials after an official has left office in the past.
I expect that, when the dust settles, courts will deem the trial legal. If so, the new Democratic Senate Majority Leader, with some guidance from the new Democratic President, will decide when and whether and when to proceed.
Here’s what I hope happens.
A peaceful and public Biden inauguration
Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 was a small, televised ceremony. Some argue that, for safety, Joe Biden ought to be sworn in similarly.
I hope not. Symbolism matters. Retreating from the White House grounds due to extremist threats signals weakness when we need to show strength. We ought not to allow terrorists to drive us into hiding.
That means, of course, that the law enforcement and security personnel in charge of securing the ceremony must do a much better job than they did in preparing for the electoral vote count on January 6. I expert that the failure then has focused their attention.
A fast start to Biden’s first one hundred days
The legislature plays an essential role in the early days of a new President. There are cabinet and other appointments that require approval. There are always urgent policy matters. This year in particular, we have a pandemic raging across the country —on each of three days in the last week, more than 4,000 Americans died of the disease. We are in the throes of an economic contraction worse than that of the Great Recession that President Obama inherited: New unemployment claims, a lagging indicator of job loss, spiked in December. The pandemic and the economy are intertwined. Fast, decisive action is necessary.
The Senate must concentrate on those matters urgently. The Administration will come in with much homework already done: Proposals on further COVID economic relief, plans for faster and more thorough vaccine rollout, and more. Lawmakers must debate and pass laws that help to stabilize the country.
Beyond those hundred days, I hope for progress on deep problems in the country: Economic inequality, police and race, climate change, infrastructure, trade and foreign policy and more. I’m impressed by Biden’s nominations to work on those matters. We’ll have a talented and expert group in leadership.
A deliberate trial
Armed Americans storming the Capitol has never happened before. It’s a breathtaking crime against the country. We need a visible, national trial in which evidence is presented and facts established. It won’t be, I bet, a pleasant mirror to look in, but it’s essential we do it.
The terrorists who stormed the building claim that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Across the country, states have recounted their votes, examined their operations, and found no fraud that would have changed the outcome. The President’s supporters and his campaign filed sixty-five lawsuits. Courts have looked at those claims, as well as at the legal arguments made, and ruled contra, sixty-four times. The lies have been thoroughly debunked.
And yet people continue to believe them.
A Senate trial will be a forum to rebut them again, publicly and visibly and in detail. It’s important that we subject those claims to that sunlight. We must debunk them once and for all. Every Senator has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. Each should look at the evidence, and issue a verdict. Republican Senators acknowledging the truth will help.
And by the way: I’m confident in the integrity of the election because of the work that election officials and state legislatures did in certifying results. But honestly, if there were any truth to claims of election fraud, we’d all want to know it. Even though this was a fair and free election, I’m confident we’ll learn some ways (I’m working on some!) to better secure future elections, as well.
Besides the impeachment trial, of course, the FBI is actively investigating crimes committed during the insurrection. Arrests will lead to plea agreements and trials, and we’ll learn more from those. These investigations and the Senate trial will complement one another: Each will surface facts germane to the other.
A full accounting of events and blame will rely on both.
Truth before reconciliation
With President Trump out of office, there will be no immediate urgency to conducting an impeachment trial. Its eventual result will be to assign blame for insurrection. If he is found guilty, he’ll never hold public office again, and that’s important.
But we can afford to be deliberate.
If it were possible for the Senate to conduct a trial without distracting itself from the work of the first hundred days, then I would like to see the two happen in parallel. That’s in part a question for the Senate Parliamentarian, but also a tactical consideration for the incoming Majority Leader. Both should happen. The first hundred days is most urgent. If the trial needs to follow that, then it should.
I do believe that a fair trial in the Senate is essential to restoring unity to the country. We need a clear view of any crimes committed, and judgment passed on the perpetrators. The facts in the President’s trial may well implicate others; let’s see that evidence, and pursue the truth to its conclusion.
The divide in this country is deep. It’s driven by lies — about the election results, but also about QAnon and conspiracy.
We won’t heal that divide until we root out those lies.
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission explored crimes in that country in order to set it on a path to reintegration. It was a profoundly humane idea: We can forgive, but only when we all acknowledge the crimes that were committed.
Truth is a precondition to reconciliation. We must acknowledge the facts before we can get past our troubles. That will be painful, but essential to healing.