After the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of Donald Trump, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “This mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough … Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the president and the vice president of the United States on January the 20th.”
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the Capitol riot was “incited from the highest level” and called for Donald Trump to resign.
Even Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called the attack on the Capitol “a despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system.”
Other Republicans spoke up as well in what looked like a realization that the lies they had either ignored, allowed or encouraged finally created a crisis in our democracy that had gotten out of control. There appeared to be consensus that the untruths and conspiracy theories so long perpetrated by extremists on the right were going to be repudiated by leaders of the Republican Party — that Republicans would take their party back.
Sadly, the light of hope flickered for only a moment before it was extinguished.
Within days, Republican leaders began backing down from their outrage, attacking the impeachment trial, voicing opposition to conviction, attacking Democrats for “creating division” in the country and, outrageously, leaving open the possibility of another Donald Trump run for president.
It’s clear that Republicans will not muster 17 votes to convict. With nearly 90% of Republican voters still supporting Donald Trump, GOP leadership has folded. As during Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, there is no level of evidence, no matter how strong or damaging, that will move Republicans to convict.
Even now we hear Republicans energizing their base by claiming Democrats were disingenuous about healing the country’s wounds and are simply creating one more politically contrived circus. At a time when our democracy is in dire straits, with a pandemic that will surely cost more than 500,000 American lives and an economic crisis that continues unabated, Republicans are using an impeachment against a president that attempted to overthrow a free and fair election to sow seeds of division in a base that already embraced insurrection.
Eight Republican senators and 139 Republicans in the U.S. House joined the insurrection by supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. Those Republicans who spoke out so eloquently after Jan. 6 have, in their recent change of heart, given new life to those who organized and participated in the insurrection.
A party that just a few short years ago decided a president should be impeached and convicted for lying about a consensual affair with a woman of legal age, now believes no violation of law, no impeachable offense — not even insurrection — meets the standard set in the Constitution. If, as expected, Republicans block Trump’s conviction, then the Constitution for all practical purposes is a dead letter.
Lacking a conviction in the Senate, the assault on truth will continue unabated, the Republican base will be energized by false conspiracy theories, enemies will be identified and demonized, anger and hatred will grow and the violent insurrection will once again show its ugly head.
Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other.”
Today the division is not about free or slave states, but about whether we will continue to work toward a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people or choose to change course and end our experiment in democracy.
Kenneth L. Buck is a retired federal law enforcement officer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.