By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
On Feb. 9, former president Donald Trump will face the first trial of his impeachment proceedings. The only U.S. president to be impeached twice, he is charged with incitement of insurrection following the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Because Trump is no longer in office, many question the purpose of the impeachment trials. A number of Republican senators have publicly voiced their opposition, including Senator Marco Rubio, who referred to the trials as “stupid” in an interview with Fox News on Jan. 24.
“I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton said in the same Fox segment.
It may seem unnecessary to impeach a president once they have left office; however, “impeachment” involves more than literal removal from the Oval Office. Impeachment also disqualifies the former president from collecting an estimated $200,000 annual pension and may bar him from running for a government position in the future, according to Independent.
More importantly, to allow Trump to escape unpunished would set a dangerous precedent for future elected officials.
“Democrats have argued that Mr. Trump’s offense — using his power as the nation’s leader and commander in chief to incite an insurrection against the legislative branch — is so grave that it must be addressed, even with just a few days remaining in his term,” New York Times journalist Catie Edmonson said in an article released immediately after the initial motion for impeachment.
The leader of the free world cannot actively attempt to dismantle democracy by calling for a violent coup in response to losing a fair election. Despite his own claims to the contrary, the former president has a documented history of vitriolic and violent tweets, and even encouraged the insurrectionists during the Capitol siege.
“We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” Trump said in his public address on Jan. 6. “After this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you. … We’re going to walk down to the Capitol … because you’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
The 1969 Supreme Court decision in Brandenburg vs. Ohio found that any speech “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and … likely to incite or produce such action” is a criminal offense and not protected under the First Amendment.
A criminal should not be exempt from the law because they once held a position of power. Rather, a president that seeks to incite violence against the country he swore to protect should face harsher trial for the threat he poses to national security. The implications of the Capitol attack and the violent messages Trump spread did not disappear when President Biden was sworn into office, and neither should the consequences he must face.
“This was an attack on the Capitol,” Rhode Island Representative David Cicilline said in an interview with Russell Berman of The Atlantic following the impeachment hearing in the House. “The notion that we would simply say, ‘Oh, you know, this was an effort to overthrow the government, a coup and insurrection against the government, but he’s going to be gone in 12 days so we should just overlook it’ is completely unacceptable.”
Trump’s actions were a betrayal of his oath of office. Failure to see the impeachment through to the fullest extent would expose the fragility of the American justice system, proving the good of the people can be sacrificed for political niceties. Furthermore, it would pave the way for any future leaders to turn our democracy into a dictatorship by attacking any entities that opposed them – including a vote by their people.
Critics of the impeachment claim it is only furthering political divide in our country.
“We already have a flaming fire in this country and it’s like taking a bunch of gasoline and pouring it on top of the fire,” Senator Rubio said.
For the duration of his time in office, Trump spread divisive rhetoric pitting classes, races, and political parties against one another, resulting in a domestic terrorist attack to overturn election results. But Trump is not guilty alone: his actions are only a culmination of the prejudices festering in our country since its foundation.
To extinguish these fires and dismantle the divided system that has been put in place, we need to ensure our governing body prioritizes the safety of all Americans as well as our democracy itself. This begins with the impeachment and conviction of the radical insurrectionist who only sought to divide our country further.
Featured Photo caption: Former president Donald Trump is facing impeachment for inciting insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, weeks after leaving the White House. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.