Presidents’ Day 2021 was established in 1885 to honor George Washington, who as our nation’s first president established the pattern and practice of a peaceful transition of power that endured up until Donald Trump and his January 6 insurrection that left five people dead including Capitol Police Officer and New Jersey native Brian Sicknick.
Forty-three Republican U.S. Senators voted on Saturday to acquit former President Donald J. Trump of inciting the insurrection that was witnessed in real time by the entire world on live TV.
Last month, 197 House Republicans, including New Jersey Reps. Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew, voted against impeaching Trump for the second time.
It’s important to contextualize their abdication with the reality our nation is in the throes of a mass death event likely to kill a half-million Americans and infect 30 million with a life-threatening killer virus by the end of the month as food and shelter insecurity spreads across the land.
Unlike their Senate colleagues: Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Ne.) Pat Toomey (Pa.) the GOP Senators that voted to acquit Trump, keeping his political aspirations alive, did not want to jump into the breach that had already proved fatal to Officer Sicknick.
That dozens of people of such privilege and rank, like the Congressional Republicans who opposed holding Trump accountable, opted to instead protect their own partisan political position has ample precedence in our history.
Luckily, for us, the original framers were more visionary in spirit and put the potential of our democracy, not yet fully conceived, above their own personal fortunes with the awareness that if they did not “hang together” they would surely “all hang separately.”
THE POWER OF FEAR
Incredibly, the Republican Senate Minority Leader said that holding Trump accountable should be left to the country’s civil and criminal justice system. This provided a procedural fig leaf for his caucus’s ‘don’t be a snitch’ culture which actually works to undermine the Constitution that is the foundation upon which our criminal and civil law rests.
By choosing to avoid holding accountable the bully and his mob they fear, they memorialized their subjugation.
“When the holding and keeping of power is the organizing principle then everything else becomes a means to that end,” observed historian Jon Meachem, on MSNBC this morning. “It may be politically rational, but it is constitutionally derelict.”
After that vote, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also voted to acquit, admitted that Trump’s actions that resulted in the loss of control of the Capitol for several hours as “disgraceful” and “a dereliction of duty.”
“Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor,” McConnell said. “They tried to hunt down the Speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president.”
The Kentucky Republican observed that Trump’s “unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began adding that “whatever our ex-president claims he thought might happen that day… whatever reaction he says he meant to produce… by that afternoon, he was watching the same live television as the rest of the world.”
McConnell continued. “A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags, and screaming their loyalty to him. Instead, according to public reports, he watched television happily as the chaos unfolded. He kept pressing his scheme to overturn the election!”
CRIME IN PROGRESS
In the Minority Leader’s own words, Trump then had crossed that ‘Rubicon’ line from being the inciter to an actual participant by tweet proxy with the Vice President now on the run.
“Even after it was clear to any reasonable observer that Vice President Pence was in danger… even as the mob carrying Trump banners was beating cops and breaching perimeters… the president sent a further tweet attacking his vice president,” McConnell admitted.
And so, based on what has been established in the U.S. Senate trial, and supported by a 57 to 43 bi-partisan vote to convict, is a fact pattern far more treacherous and lethal than a bid to delay the certification of the Electoral College, but rather a near successful bid to murder the two elected officials in the direct line of succession after the President.
Add in this crucible, the recent disclosure that when the Trump activated rioters breached the Capitol and sent Vice President Pence scrambling for safety, his entourage that was sent into rapid retreat included an Air Force officer who had carried the suitcase that carries the nuclear weapon launch codes.
As the House managers prosecution of the case against Donald Trump demonstrated, facts can move minds which accounts for the decision by seven Republicans to go against their party’s partisan interests to vote with their Democratic colleagues.
What was clear was that for a number of those Senators it was what Trump did NOT do after the Capitol riot got underway that helped convince them of his guilt.
ULTIMATE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
What we need now is for the U.S. Secret Service to be compelled to disclose publicly what they knew, when they knew it, how they sorted it out in real time and if they saw this coming.
For a few hours there we had one executive security detail protecting Vice President Pence while another was protecting President Trump who, after he learned that Pence was on the run, used his tweet artillery to further incite the mob pursing Pence.
In its trajectory the 01-06-21 insurrection bears a striking similarity to the strategic arc of the successful assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. That plot also targeted Vice President Andrew Johnson, General Ulysses Grant, as well Secretary of State William Seward, who did survive a gruesome knife attack.
In the aftermath of the assassination, President Johnson ordered that the several suspects in the conspiracy be tried not by an Article III court, but by a military tribunal.
Four individuals were hung for their participation in the conspiracy. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis, the former U.S. Senator from Mississippi, who became the president of the Confederacy, was arrested and charged with treason in May of 1865 but was never tried.
Two years later, according the History Channel, Davis was released on bail raised mostly by prominent Northern abolitionists, including Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, who all “advocated for a speedy trial or release of Davis in order to heal the country.”
Ultimately, it was federal prosecutors that blinked and never pursued the treason case against Davis for fear “that Davis would either prove to a jury that secession was legally permitted under the U.S. Constitution or he would be transformed into a martyr if convicted and executed.”
Davis remained resolute that his course of action was correct explaining to the Mississippi Legislature in 1884 “it has been said that I should apply to the United States for a pardon. But repentance must precede the right of pardon, and I have not repented…If it were all to do over again, I would again do just as I did in 1861.”
In the final analysis it was the north that would wink when in 1978 President Jimmy Carter signed legislation passed by Congress that restored Davis’s American citizenship.
In substance we know that from Andrew Johnson onward, the federal government would betray the nation’s African American slaves and their descendants by letting the south, driven by its racist passions, dismantle the ephemeral gains of Reconstruction.
“One of the great mistakes we have made in the country historically is that in the aftermath of the Civil War we did not hold insurrectionists— rebels accountable for what they did,” observed Meacham.
That’s precisely the thought I had when I saw the FBI flyer with the picture of the Trump insurrectionist carrying the Confederate flag inside the U.S. Capitol, something that had never happened before Jan. 6.
We have no bandwidth to make that mistake again.