It’s time to stop mincing words about what President Donald Trump and his supporters in Congress have done to this country. With the United States Capitol breached for the first time since the British burned it in the War of 1812, we must call this what it is: an attack on America. And our leaders responsible for it must see quick and severe consequences.
This is not, and never was, a dispute about the election, a misguided concern about voter fraud, or an insistence on more process. The facts have always been clear that Trump lost the election, and dozens of courts have definitively rejected any assertions to the contrary.
Instead, this is a president who was unwilling to accept the results of an election he lost, who is insisting on continuing to hold power even though the American people elected someone else. What he is trying to do is to overthrow our democracy and install himself as dictator. His efforts have failed at every step.
Trump instigated a violent insurrection
His lawsuits have been dismissed by court after court, his calls to states to reject their citizens’ votes have been rejected by state after state, and his push to overturn the votes of the electoral college have been rejected even by his own vice president. Yet he, and his most ardent congressional supporters, continued to escalate their assault on our democracy.
Just last weekend, President Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and tried to pressure him to “find” additional votes in order to overturn the people’s vote in that state. That blatant attempt to overturn a democratic election likely violated criminal law and was as strong a basis for impeachment as we’ve perhaps ever seen. But it did not stop there.
The president has continued to assert that the election is being stolen and that Congress, the vice president, and his supporters had to stop that from happening in order to protect the country. Trump has been encouraging his supporters to come to Washington to push for the fraudulent election to be overturned, telling supporters Wednesday morning that “we won’t take it anymore.”
Parroting the president’s objections, over 120 House members voted to formally block the Electoral College vote in five states, and a handful of senators joined a couple of those objections. While the challenges failed, their votes gave credence to the president’s bogus assertions of fraud and suggested a crisis of democracy that demanded response — when in fact the only crisis of democracy was the one they were causing. One Republican, Rep. Louie Gohmert, said earlier this week that a court loss in his efforts to overturn the election sent the message to people, “You have to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa.”
The president’s supporters have listened to him and his co-conspirators in Congress. They have gone to the streets and been violent. They broke down doors to violently push their way into the United States Capitol, endangering members of Congress, staff, law enforcement, and other Americans. For hours, the president did basically nothing as others desperately tried to restore calm. This cannot be seen as anything other than a violent insurrection against our democratic government instigated by the sitting president and some of his supporters in Congress. President-elect Joe Biden was right to say this was not protest, but insurrection.
There must now be consequences. First, we must call out President Trump and those who were willing to carry water in his attempt to throw out a democratic election, and who aided him in encouraging mobs of supporters to believe a violent response was called for and needed, as enemies of democracy. We cannot shirk from calling them that.
Second, every day in which the president continues to serve is a day our country is in danger. When my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and some members of Congress called for a second impeachment after the president’s outrageous Georgia call this weekend, some congressional leaders said we needed to look forward and not waste time with such things. As Wednesday’s actions demonstrated, that was never a safe position.
Punish Trump and his coup enablers
If the president will not resign, Congress should expedite impeachment proceedings in order to try to get him out as soon as possible. The Department of Justice, the Fulton County District Attorney in Georgia, and others should begin looking to see whether there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the president and those who worked with him to overturn an election.
Those members of Congress who facilitated the president’s attempted coup and incited insurrection should face consequences too. At the very least, they should not be able to serve on committees on ethics, rules, or judiciary, having shown such contempt for the role of ethics, rules, and justice in our country. And Congress should begin considering whether members who encouraged an attack on democracy have violated their oaths of office and their duties to their constituents and country and thus should be expelled.
After that, we must have real reform to restore ethics, checks and balances, and a commitment to democracy. We must have accountability to ensure that the American people know the extent of the anti-democratic abuses of the past days, weeks, and years, and see real consequences. We need a period of national soul searching.
This may all sound extreme, but today’s events were beyond extreme. We cannot keep acting as though these are mere political disputes. Our democracy is under attack, more so than it has been since the Civil War. It is time to start responding accordingly.
Noah Bookbinder, a former criminal prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Follow him on Twitter: @NoahBookbinder
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